Transportation “Scorecard” Bill Still Sparking Back-and-Forth

2016 legislation variously known as the “Scorecard Bill,” the “Road Kill Bill,” or the “Transportation Transparency Bill” continues to stir up emotions in the State capital, as the legislative session approaches. The content of the bill itself, the process for its legislative consideration, and larger funding issues with the Department of Transportation are all in the crosshairs for this still-raging debate.

Department of Legislative Services (DLS) Executive Director Warren Deschenaux has weighed in on HB 1013 – the bill requiring scoring for major transportation projects – disputing the claim that it actually kills roads. In a letter sent to the Maryland General Assembly leadership, the head of the legislature’s nonpartisan staff agency points out that the Administration retains authority to override the scoring system and fund any project it favors and seeks to fund. Deschenaux also specified that 31 of the 71 projects being claimed as “killed” were not previously programmed in the draft Consolidated Transportation Program (CTP).

Deschenaux instead draws attention to a $1 billion shortfall in expected transportation revenue as a likely “road killer.” The Baltimore Sun quotes from the letter:

In his letter, Deschenaux said the most important current threat to transportation spending was a shortfall in expected transportation revenue that has forced the department to decrease capital spending by “nearly $1 billion.”

“Based on this analysis, it would appear that fiscal realities are likely to have a much bigger impact on MDOT’s ability to include projects in the [six-year plan] than the requirement under the act that projects be scored,” Deschenaux wrote.

Deschenaux points to $761 million placed in reserve by Governor Hogan to provide transportation funds to counties and municipalities for local roads and bridges – funds that the General Assembly could instead reserve for state projects.

Governor Hogan’s chief spokesperson, Doug Mayer, called Deschenaux’s view on the law “preposterous,” stating that the Administration does not believe the law provides the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) legal authority to move forward with lower-scoring projects.  “There is no way the session ends without a major change to this law,” stated Mayer.

Read the article in  The Baltimore Sun.

The exchange has reignited a firestorm of social media attention from various sources. Some individuals and organizations are weighing in with memes and comments protesting that the bills the Governor says would be killed were never slated to be funded to begin with. Others take issue with the legislature and how HB 1013 was passed – there has been some disagreement over the hearings the cross-filed bill received.

On the issue over whether the Act had hearings in both chambers: it did, just in varying forms.  The Daily Record (available to subscribers only) sums it up well:

The governor is right in the fact that the legislature “rushed the bill through.” He’s wrong when he says the bill received no hearings or no public input.

Both the House and Senate versions of the bill [(House Bill 1013 and cross-file Senate Bill 908, respectively)] received hearings in their respective chambers on Feb. 17 and March 2, respectively. Both hearings are available on video, and state Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn testified against the bill at both.

The House completed its work on House Bill 1013 on March 19 and sent it to the Senate. ….

By tradition, bills that are cross-filed in the House and Senate receive a full hearing in their original chamber and a sponsor-only hearing when they are sent to the opposite chamber.

What should have been a sponsor-only hearing for House Bill 1013 was scheduled for March 29 in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee. That hearing never happened. Instead, the bill legislators said is supposed to promote transparency was amended and voted out of committee session March 28. That session does not appear on any calendar.

The unusual procedural skip-ahead by Kasemeyer and the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee made it possible to fast-track the legislation and get it on the Hogan’s desk by April 1 — forcing governor to sign or veto the bill during session and allowing the General Assembly to take up a veto override.

Read more Conduit Street coverage on the Maryland Open Transportation Investment Decision Act of 2016 by clicking here or searching for the tag, “scorecard.”

The Department of Legislative Services letter is available here.