Wednesday, Aug. 22, 2007

O’Malley vows to take care of transportation priorities

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Gov. Martin O’Malley told county leaders he would introduce a transportation funding measure when the General Assembly convenes in January.

‘‘We will not be the generation that allowed its infrastructure to become weak because our political will was not strong,” O’Malley (D) said in a speech that closed the Maryland Association of Counties’ annual summer conference in Ocean City on Saturday.

The announcement comes less than three weeks after the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis collapsed, killing 12 and galvanizing attention on the nation’s decaying highway network.

‘‘Our roads and bridges will not wait until the right political timing, the ideal gas price or the best fiscal environment. We need action, and we need it now,” O’Malley said.

The Maryland Department of Transportation estimates the state’s unmet needs cost $40 billion.

‘‘Although he didn’t have a lot of specifics, it was terrific he has a commitment on those issues,” said Montgomery County Councilwoman Nancy M. Floreen, who attended the governor’s speech.

Although O’Malley did not say how he would pay for an increase in road spending, a MACo briefing hosted by consultant William S. Ratchford II pondered an 8-cent increase in the state’s 23.5-cent-a-gallon gasoline tax.

During this year’s legislative session, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. proposed a 12-cent increase, which budget analysts estimated would raise more than $400 million a year.

‘‘It seemed a little light on specifics to me. I think the governor needs to give us some specifics on what he plans on doing. He didn’t say where or how,” House Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell (R-Dist. 29C) of Lusby said of the governor’s speech on Monday.

Since the legislative session ended in April, lawmakers have fretted how the state will balance its fiscal 2009 budget, which will take effect July 1. Projections show that projected spending exceeds revenue by $1.5 billion, and state law requires budgets to be balanced.