Md. lawmakers aim to replenish Transportation Trust Fund with pair of bills

MARYLAND – More than 60 bipartisan lawmakers are calling for what they’re dubbing as “truth in funding”. They’re trying to accomplish that with a pair of cross-filed bills: Senate Bill 726, and House Bill 1187.

When Marylanders fuel up at the pump, they’re paying a gas tax, whether they realize it or not. That money goes into the state’s Transportation Trust Fund. “The gas tax is how we pay for our potholes being filled, pay for sidewalk repair, the extension of roads from new developments,” said Salisbury Mayor Jake Day. “All of our road maintenance, and everything associated through our transportation, is largely funded through the gas tax. So, what we are looking for is a restoration of funds.”

Recession Affects Fund 15 Years On

Queue the Great Recession of 2008. Former Governor Martin O’Malley cut the fund by 90%, and started putting it to use in other areas of the state’s budget. “I think everyone agrees that at that time, finding every single way to keep the economy rolling and keep money in peoples’ pockets, was a positive thing,” said Mayor Day.

Delegate Carl Anderton was on the Delmar Town Commission at the time. He says he remembers the pain that came with the cut. “[Our share] went from $160,000 to about $6,000. That made things a little more difficult,” said Del. Anderton.

Fast forward almost 15 years to 2022, and lawmakers say that “spread the wealth” mentality is still happening in Maryland’s budget. “I’m not a fan of when a fee or a tax is levied against people for one reason, and that money is used to sort of pad other parts of a budget,” said Mayor Day.

Replenishing Revenue

Del. Anderton says he’s hoping House Bill 1187 will fix that. The bill, along with its Senate cohort, recalculate the amount of capital grants dispersed throughout the state, beginning in Fiscal Year 2020. “While we’re here, we’re going to clean up things and help the counties and cities out as best we can. That’s the most important piece to our quality of life,” said Del. Anderton.

It would be up to the municipalities and counties to decide how they would use the funding. In Salisbury, Mayor Day says the money would help pay for infrared street scanning. “We actually assess the condition of the pavement using infrared cameras attached to a vehicle. A contractor goes and assesses that, then we make a list,” he said.

The scanned roads are ranked in a 0 to 6 ranking system. Once a ranking in assigned, the City figures out which roads need to be prioritized first. Mayor Day says an example of a level 0 road would be one freshly paved. A level 6 road would be closer to a dirt road with little to no paving at all.

But, Mayor Day says the money wouldn’t just help pay for street scanning. “When we do paving, we update concrete ramps to comply with the ADA. We also do sidewalk repairs, curb and gutter repairs, all in concert,” he said.

Mayor Day adds that the funding would bolster the City’s Vision Zero project. The goal is to address streets with a higher number of accidents, particularly pedestrian or bicyclist involved incidents.

Pushing The Message

Until then, Del. Anderton says sponsors of the bills are on a mission to make the importance of passing them clear to other lawmakers, and state officials. “The argument we hear from the Governor’s Office and State Highway right now is all that money has been pledged for other projects,” he said. “Folks who represent Howard County and Baltimore County, for example, don’t have any municipalities. So, their argument was ‘Why is this needed?'”

Both of the bills are currently going through committee hearings. If passed, either one would take effect in July, 2022.

Categories: Local News, Local Politics, Maryland, Money