The End of Fair Transportation Decisions
In a Saturday session of the Maryland House of Delegates, many innocuous bills were passed as quickly as possible. Much of the legislation is completed en masse on a day that few people attend or pay attention, because it allows the leaders in Annapolis to slip really bad pieces of legislation through without notice. One of those bills would completely redo Maryland’s transportation spending.
HB 1013 would severely limit how the Department of Transportation sets priorities for spending. Instead of the current system relying on experts and local officials to balance state-wide need, the proposal would establish nine goals that the department must consider: 1. safety and security, 2. system preservation, 3. quality of service, 4. environmental stewardship, 5. community vitality, 6. economic prosperity, 7. equitable access to transportation, 8. cost effectiveness and return on investment, and 9. local priorities and planning. The department is then required to “assign a score from 1 to 100 for each goal using the following measures,” which are listed beginning on page 14 of the bill.
You can listen to the session by clicking here (RealPlayer is needed to play), and discussion on the bill begins at the 1:51:50 mark. Multiple delegates representing rural communities make their concerns known regarding how the bill would undermine local priorities and the construction necessary to mitigate safety issues, including Delegates Jefferson Ghrist (R-Kent, Queen Anne’s, Cecil, and Caroline 36), Mary Beth Carozza (R-38C Wicomico and Worcester), and Kathy Afzali (R-Frederick and Carroll 4).
At the 2:14:02 mark, the floor leader Delegate Brooke Lierman (D-Baltimore City 46), representing the will of the Speaker of the House and the Democratic leadership, said three important statements: 1. “Under this bill, projects that deal exclusively with safety are not scored,” 2. “That is just not in the definition of what is being scored,” and 3. “We don’t know the scoring system yet.”
However, Page 13 and Page 14 specifically contradict her on the first and second point, making it clear that projects related to safety are included, scored, and part of the priority list. Her attempt to say otherwise was to hedge off opposition to the bill by suggesting that safety related projects could be funded by the department without having to deal with the ranking system. She was clearly wrong according to the language of the bill.
At the same time, Delegate Kirill Reznik (D-Montgomery 39) took to Facebook, with other Democrats, to spread the false claim. On the facebook page of Delegate Sid Saab (R-Anne Arundel 33), Del. Reznik criticized Del. Saab’s opposition, and, in response to revelations by myself that safety was included as a measurement, even tried to say “Please check the actual committee amendments that were accepted, rather than the original draft of the bill.” When it was pointed out that the language was coming from the Third Reader of the bill, which he had before him, and page numbers were clearly provided and could be checked, Del. Reznik failed to respond. The Democratic delegates were made aware of this major error and persisted in promoting the false statements anyway.
As for the third statement, the scoring is spelled out: each of the nine priorities is given 100 points maximum. Of these, there are some interesting requirements. Many of the measures promote mass transit over highways. “Quality of service” requires measuring “connections between different modes of transportation and promotes multiple transportation choices,” which are rarely found in rural communities. For “environmental stewardship,” the requirement is to “limit or reduce harmful emissions,” which is a statement against automobiles.
Other measures directly prioritize spending in urban communities over rural. “Community vitality” measures how “the project is projected to increase the use of walking, biking, and transit,” which severely disadvantages rural communities. Both “economic prosperity” and “equitable access to transportation” have drive time distances between individuals and employers, which would prioritize urban areas over rural areas with longer commutes. Congestion in rural areas would further strip away their ability to be a funding priority as time progresses.
A fourth claim by the floor leader is that there will “still be meetings” to determine public input. Only one of the measures involves local input, which reduces local need to a mere 11% of overall consideration. 55% of the total consideration by default prioritizes urban and mass transit projects over rural and highway projects.
This is made worse on page 17, which reads: “For regional equity, the department shall multiple the total combined score of each major transportation project by a weighting factor equal to one plus the result of dividing the population in the county or counties where the project will be located by the population of Maryland.” Maryland has 6 million total residents, with 1 million living in Montgomery County and 35,000 living in Caroline County. That means Montgomery County (1 + 16) would have a 10.76 times higher priority over Caroline County (1 + .58).
It is difficult to ignore Del. Ghrist’s concern that funding for an extremely dangerous highway in Caroline County would lose its current priority status to make way for even more spending in Montgomery County. The only response by Democrats on the issue was to falsify what was included in the bill and to claim that his projects could not be affected by the new priority measurements.
Other delegates also took up the fight for rural counties, including Republican delegates Christopher Adams (Caroline, Dorchester, Talbot, and Wicomico 37B), Robert Flanagan (Howard 9B), Robin Grammer (Baltimore 6), Nicholaus Kipke (Anne Arundel 31B), Susan McComas (Harford 34B), Anthony O’Donnell (Calvert and St. Mary’s 29C), Neil Parrott (Washington 2A), and Haven Shoemaker (Carroll 5). All of the Republicans present during today’s session opposed the bill in the end, and two Democrat delegates joined them, Eric Bromwell (Baltimore 8) and Sheree Sample-Hughes (Dorchester and Wicomico 37A).
In the end, the measure passed 84-51, with only 136 of the delegates present. The bill now heads to the State Senate where the cross-file, SB 908, has yet to pass out of committee. It is uncertain if the Senate will recognize the false claims made to obtain passage of the bill or if the Democratic leadership will even care. The bill is intended simply to remove the ability for the Republican Governor to set transportation priorities and to punish rural Maryland for electing Republicans into office.
Update: There have been some claims that the measurements are not binding. Page 17 reads: “The Department shall prioritize major transportation projects with higher scores for inclusion in the consolidated transportation program over major transportation projects with lower scores.” The word “shall” is binding.
Correction 9:10 PM 3/19/16: The original piece left out Eric Bromwell as a Democrat who opposed the bill.