Maryland Reporter Muses On Scorecard Bill, Solutions

In a commentary piece timed with the beginning of session, veteran Annapolis reporter hogan-road-kill-charts-1170x781Len Lazarick of the news site MarylandReporter.com bemoans the role of “facts” in political debate, and eventually focuses his attention on the high-profile “transportation scorecard” legislation passed last year and still causing a furor.

Governor Larry Hogan has made it clear that his top priority this session is to repeal the transportation scoring legislation passed overwhelmingly last session, which the Governor vetoed and the General Assembly overrided. Lazarick categorizes the history:

Why some road or highway or transit projects are funded and others are not is often a mystery. There is never enough money for everything, particularly after the Great Recession, so some projects win and some project lose.

The legislature wanted to make that decision process “more transparent” by creating a complicated scoring system with nine goals and 23 measures. Some projects would score higher than others, justifying funding.

The principal problem with the law is that its goals and measures are blatantly biased in favor of mass transit. On top of that, once the scores are arrived at, they are then weighted by population, putting a thumb on the scales for the largest counties.

Hogan’s veto of a measure that seems to restrict his authority to fund projects was understandable.

MACo testified, in opposition to the bill, at both hearings — arguing that the bill’s detailed provisions could marginalize local input, overlook regional or demographic variations in transportation needs, and under-value safety as a driving factor in project approval. Both the House and Senate accepted substantial amendments to the bill, many of which were drafted to address county concerns. The amendments made several changes to the bill, including directing the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) to develop the final “percentage” weightings in the various components of the scoring system and adding an additional scoring component, “Local Priorities and Planning.” Amendments also ensured the bill would not affect the county priority letter process and MDOT’s visit to each county to discuss transportation priorities.

Lazarick states that the Governor “denied that there were escape clauses in the law,” and points out:

…in fact there are two. One allows the administration to fund a project, despite a low score, by writing a letter giving a “rational basis” for the decision. The other says the law should not prohibit the funding of any project.

Lazarick also calls attention to MDOT’s regulations drafted to implement the bill, which “provide little leeway on scoring.” MACo testified at a hearing held on the regulations on November 18, and provided formal comments on how to the regulations could be amended to provide more leeway.

Lazarick closes by opining on what comes next:

With bad regs due to take effect in February to implement a flawed bill, legislators seem prepared to tackle a rewrite of the scoring system. “Repeal and replace,” is how Democratic Del. Sandy Rosenberg phrased it, as he co-chaired the hearing on the regulations Nov. 18, echoing the Republican phrasing on Obamacare.

That could be a model for “repeal” of the “road kill bill” — repeal the bad bill, but create a new, more flexible “advisory” scoring system that Hogan could live with.

One note of potential optimism on the issue popped up as the Governor addressed the Senate Chamber in its initial session today. Senate President Mike Miller followed the Governor’s comments by noting multiple areas of potential collaboration, and added, “We’re also going to look at a road bill, Governor… we’re going to look to you for some ideas to make it more palatable for you and your Administration.”

Click here to see MACo’s ample coverage on this issue.