Business and political leaders met with the county’s delegation to Annapolis recently asking that they make transportation funding a priority. Who would disagree? The legislators may differ in how to rank backlogged projects, or how the state will pay for the biggest, most expensive projects, but the basic notion of money for roads and transit has been decided.
Which raises a question about education.
For so long, education funding was Maryland’s top issue. Lawmakers in 2002 passed the so-called Thornton plan deciding to worry about funding it after the next election. No funding source was found, which meant schools vacuumed up every spare state and county dollar. We have Education Week’s No. 1 ranking to show for it, but during the same time, some might doubt we’d make the top 50 of states fulfilling their transportation needs.
So it’s worth pondering how Maryland will work through its education and transportation punch lists simultaneously. We may be facing the prospect that if we really want to fund, say, the Purple Line, the state may lose its lofty No. 1 education status. Or see significant decreases in state services. Or hope Marylanders have an insatiable appetite for blackjack and roulette. Or all three.
One might believe that a big gas tax increase is approaching. Wise bettors would say no. General Assembly lawmakers will have an eye on 2014, and many doubt the robustness of the improving economy. A gas tax increase so close to re-election could be a hard sell, even in incumbent-friendly Maryland. A more likely scenario would be for lawmakers to address the margins of the problem, possibly an increase in highway user revenue to municipalities. It’s been cut so drastically that the state treasury might be able to absorb a significant increase, and legislators will have an argument to present to voters on why they deserve another term.
It’s also worth taking a peek at Virginia, which recently opened its highly touted “HOT Lanes” a few days ago. Motorists need an EZ Pass transponder to use them, and the tolls are based on Beltway congestion. Virginia — the seat of the nation’s intelligence community — apparently had some difficulty handling the new lanes as police reported a handful of crashes. All this could set up a great wisecrack, but instead it’s worth pointing out that one of the heralded solutions to gridlock might not be the panacea its supporters believe.