Counties Call For A Local Infrastructure Fast Track

Local infrastructure requires reliable investment to keep Maryland moving. Recession-driven cost shifts have left local roadways lacking proper maintenance, bridges in dire need, and other public infrastructure neglected. Re-investing in infrastructure – a call being heard at every level of government – is good for Maryland jobs, business attractiveness, and quality of life across the state. Meanwhile, funding for school maintenance, water delivery systems, and public safety centers all lack predictable centralized funding commitments.

MACo has adopted four initiatives for the 2017 General Assembly Session. This post outlines MACo’s initiative to advocate for a Local Infrastructure Fast Track for Maryland (#LIFT4MD). For additional information about MACo’s priorities, read all of MACo’s top initiatives.

MACo calls on state leaders to provide a #LIFT4MD in 2017:

  • Approve meaningful new FY 2018 funding for restoring highway user revenues – using the fair, statewide formula used for decades
  • Enact a phased-in restoration of the historic 30 percent local share of state transportation revenues – enhancing safety and road quality for motorists everywhere
  • Document and assess the state of public infrastructure across Maryland – assessing the needs and reliable revenue sources targeted for each area of service

Road Funding and Why We Need It

One thing is certain: local roads and bridges are starved for highway user revenues.

Q: What are highway user revenues, anyway? 

A: Highway user revenues are toll, gas tax, and other dollars. For several decades, 30% of these revenues were used to fund locally-owned roads and bridges.

The State and local governments have shared responsibilities for roads and bridges and the revenues generated from them since at least 1904. The State created the highway user revenue formula in 1968, placing motorist revenues – some motor vehicle fuel and vehicle titling taxes, registration fees and some others – into the Gasoline and Motor Vehicle Revenue Account (GMVRA). For more than forty years afterwards, local governments have received at least 30 percent of these revenues to fund their roads and bridges – 83 percent of the public road mileage in Maryland.

No local governments collect their own revenues from motorists – they have counted on their share of highway user revenues as their engine to maintain local roads and bridges.

Q: Why do local governments get this share? 

A: Because local governments own and maintain 83 percent of the public roads located in Maryland.

Source: State Highway Administration (SHA) (2015).

Unlike most states and any other state in the northeast or mid-Atlantic United States, Maryland local governments maintain the vast majority of roads in Maryland.

In fact, with Maryland’s counties (including Baltimore City) owning and maintaining 74 percent of the public roads, only two states in the entire country depend on counties for a larger percentage of their roads: Kansas (81 percent) and Iowa (79 percent). Hawaii ties with Maryland at 74 percent.

Q: OK, so what’s the issue? 

A: Since fiscal 2010, the State has reduced highway user revenues by 90 percent for most counties – but local governments still own and maintain 83 percent of the roads. 

The longstanding policy of sharing transportation revenues with local governments took a drastic turn in fiscal 2010 when the Board of Public Works reduced highway user revenues by 90 percent for most jurisdictions. These reductions were made permanent during the 2010 session. More or less from that point on, 23 of 24 counties have received 1.4 percent of all highway user revenues, Baltimore City has received 7.5 percent, and municipalities, .3 percent.

Q: Enough percentages. What does this all mean in dollars? 

A: Counties have missed out on more than $3 billion since fiscal 2010. That’s a whole Red Line!  The local share that used to amount to $535 million has been drastically cut back to $177 million – with a mere $35 million to be shared among 23 county governments (that figure used to be $296 million).


Q: But when we increased the gas tax in 2013, that made the pot bigger for everyone, right? 

A: No. All of that money goes straight to MDOT. 

Even though the Maryland General Assembly passed the Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act of 2013 which increased taxes on motor fuel, all of those new revenues bypass the GMVRA and go directly to MDOT, with no new revenues funding local roads and bridges.

Q: What’s the deal with Baltimore City? 

A: Baltimore City gets a larger share because it maintains almost every public road mile in its boundaries. 

Baltimore City has traditionally received a larger share of highway user revenues because it owns and maintains all roads within its boundaries, except for those portions of I-895 and I-95 maintained through toll revenues by the Maryland Transportation Authority. While state roads – i.e., Maryland’s numbered roads – are maintained by SHA throughout Maryland’s other 23 counties, Baltimore maintains those roads within its borders, as well as interstates including I-83 and I-295. Although Baltimore City’s percentage reduction has not traditionally been as large as it has been for all other counties, the reduction per capita was greater in fiscal 2010 than the average per capita reduction for the remaining counties.

Q: How do they handle this in other states? 

A: In no other state do local governments own and maintain so many public roads, yet receive so small a percentage of road-related revenues. 

As previously mentioned, only two states in the entire country depend on counties for a larger percentage of their roads: Kansas and Iowa. In Kansas, counties and cities receive approximately one third of all motor fuel revenues collected in the state. In Iowa, counties receive 43 percent of their state’s equivalent of the GMVRA. In Hawaii, where counties also maintain 74 percent of the roads, counties impose and collect all of their motor fuel taxes themselves. In Michigan, where counties maintain 73 percent of the roads, counties receive 35 percent of their equivalent to the GMVRA. In no state, however, do counties maintain nearly as much mileage as Maryland counties do, yet receive anywhere near 9.2 percent of the associated revenues.

Q: It does not seem like local roads and bridges are falling apart. Why is that? 

A: Because local governments, in fulfilling their responsibilities to maintain this infrastructure for Maryland drivers, have backfilled transportation needs from their general funds. 

Counties budgeted 38 percent of their capital funds on public works projects in fiscal 2016 – more than any other category. Counties across the state have had to increase taxes, institute layoffs and furloughs, eliminate employee adjustments and increments, enact across-the-board cuts, and dip into rainy day and reserve funds — all required to offset the State funding reductions, and in addition to their own revenue declines related to the economy.

But local roads have suffered. Counties have had to do the following to withstand the loss:

  • Delay or eliminate construction projects completely;
  • Significantly reduce street tree maintenance and street light repairs;
  • Reduce stormwater and waterway maintenance;
  • Reduce preventative maintenance and surface treatment of roadways such as asphalt overlays and slurry seal – smaller jurisdictions are experiencing major reductions or have eliminated repairs and maintenance altogether;
  • Eliminate or significantly reduce mowing, tree trimming, street sweeping, and leaf collection;
  • Reduce guardrail replacements to the point where no new guardrails are being installed, and existing guardrails are only being repaired or replaced in the most damaged areas; and,
  • Reduce personnel and/or restructure road crews’ numbers.

Q: How can I help?  

A: Share the message: #LIFT4MD

If you’re a legislator,  we need your support for legislation to get highway user revenues back on track. Get off the starvation diet for local roads, and get back to fair funding. Support MACo’s highway user revenue restoration legislation. Start talking now with your colleagues on the House Environment and Transportation Committee, the House Appropriations Committee, and the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee, and let them know this is a priority. And keep talking about this issue, and what it means to the citizens and communities back in your district.

If you’re a county leader, Maryland driver or other stakeholder and want to help – keep delivering the message. Tweet or otherwise use social media to share your needs and stories, using the hashtag #LIFT4MD. Talk to your senators and delegates, write to your local paper, and raise the issue. We can’t let these deep budget cuts just continue because too many people forgot, or don’t understand, what has happened.

Assess Maryland’s Infrastructure Needs

Addressing infrastructure needs in Maryland requires more than just restoring the fair share of funds originally provided to local governments. At least a decade has passed since Maryland has undertaken a comprehensive analysis of state and local infrastructure needs. It is time to take a fresh look at our variety of needs, so we can comprehensively and strategically stretch our limited resources wisely – and begin working towards a Local Infrastructure Fast Track For Maryland (#LIFT4MD) now.