What’s Missing From New Lock Box Amendment? The Definition of Transportation Trust Fund Revenue

Maryland’s new constitutional protection for transportation dollars may wind up protecting an empty lock box, because the amendment’s enabling legislation fails to define what funds constitute Transportation Trust Fund revenues.

On Tuesday, Maryland voters overwhelmingly approved Question 1, a constitutional amendment that ostensibly puts Transportation Trust Funds in a “lock box,” which can only be opened if the governor declares an emergency, and three-fifths of each chamber of the legislature vote to approve the transfer.

The definitions of revenues credited to the Transportation Trust Fund were amended out of Question 1’s enabling legislation, SB 829. The legislation was approved in 2013 as part of a compromise to increase the state’s gas tax.

The text of Question 1 states that the primary sources of funding for the Transportation Trust Fund are “motor fuel taxes, motor vehicle excise taxes, motor vehicle registration and licensing fees, federal funds, bond proceeds, rental car sales taxes, a portion of the State’s corporate income tax, and revenues from transit, port, aviation, and motor vehicle operations.”

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However, the text of the approved bill, sponsored by Senate President Mike Miller, shows that revenues listed in the text of Question 1 were stripped from the bill as the 2013 session neared adjournment.

  Sb 829 Chapter by Mark Newgent

Delegate Susan Krebs (R-Carroll), who has, over the last several years, introduced similar legislation with the definitions of Transportation Trust Fund revenues included, said, “this last minute change to the Constitutional Amendment was significant and it was done in the waning hours of the legislative session in 2013 when no one was paying attention.”

Without these revenue streams said Krebs, “the legislature can simply stop putting certain revenues into the fund. They can simply ‘divert’ the revenues before it gets into the fund.”

Over the last 30 years Maryland governors have raided $574 million from the Transportation Trust Fund to balance the state budget, and $330 million of the transferred funds have been repaid. Both Governor Martin O’Malley and his predecessor Robert Ehrlich raided $1.1 billion highway user funds i.e., local road money. Those dollars have not been restored to the Transportation Trust Fund.

Much like the O’Malley administration spun its failure to repay $868 million in highway user funds by redefining them from transportation fund dollars to “a category of local aid,” the General Assembly has empowered itself to continue raiding the Transportation Trust Fund by reserving the power to define what constitutes Transportation Trust Fund revenues.

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