To re-coin a phrase

It took a few days for word to filter out through the local media, but I was very pleased to see Larry Hogan borrow a phrase which has become a rallying cry to some here on this side of the Chesapeake. According to Gail Dean of the Dorchester Star:

For the past eight years in Annapolis, Hogan said, “There’s been a war on rural Maryland. There’s been a war on the Eastern Shore and there’s been a outright assault on watermen and farmers” and other small businesses.

Dean describes what Hogan said about watermen and farmers, and they were all very good points. But those only cover a few fronts on the War on Rural Maryland and its impact on the Eastern Shore.

For example, let’s start a conversation about private property rights in this state. Due to the ill-advised Senate Bill 236 of 2012 – better known as the septic bill – counties are forced to either draw restrictive tier maps or endure an even more draconian rule on subdivisions cast upon them by onerous state law. In 2013 there was an effort made by local Delegates to repeal the so-called “Sustainable Growth and Agricultural Preservation Act of 2012,” the original of which incidentally was sponsored by a Governor who was a former mayor of Baltimore and five Senators from suburban districts. What they know about either sustainable growth or agricultural preservation is probably less than the intelligence of the average farmer or waterman’s pinkie finger.

(It should also be noted that Norm Conway voted FOR Senate Bill 236 [and against farmers] and so did Jim Mathias on the original Senate third reading. He changed his vote to no on the conference bill, perhaps because he knew what the fallout would be.)

Obviously my question is whether Hogan would look to repeal that bill, or make other moves to restore county autonomy in zoning. I know Hogan is gun-shy about repealing law already in place – and yes, that phrase was intentional – but he should know downzoning isn’t popular in local farming circles. Another whisper for Hogan’s “open ear” on that same front would be a moratorium imposed on new Chesapeake Bay regulations until after the Conowingo Dam sediment cleanup is complete.

Now, as far as the War on the Eastern Shore, I think one step in assisting us would be to waive the sales tax for the nine counties on that side of the Chesapeake in order to better compete with sales-tax free Delaware. (All but one of those counties shares a border with Delaware.) If the state can have the precedents of tax-free days for school clothes and various regulations which only apply to certain counties or regions, I think this is one way of jump-starting the local economy and encouraging growth in a region which generally lags the state in employment. It’s also an idea which has been tried and failed in the General Assembly on several occasions, so perhaps it needs a gubernatorial champion. And wouldn’t it be neat to see the phrase “By Request – Administration” on some good bills for a change?

So I’m glad Hogan gets it as far as Eastern Shore matters are concerned, because we would likely never reach our potential under a third term of Martin O’Malley in the guise of Anthony Brown.

Speak now or forever pay more

Now through August 1, concerned Maryland citizens can have their say on the proposed toll increases for the Bay Bridge and other Maryland toll roads and bridges via a web form at www.mdta.maryland.gov or by writing to MDTA Toll Comments, 2310 Broening Highway, Baltimore, MD 21224. There will also be a series of public hearings beginning June 9:

  • June 9 (Montgomery County)
  • June 13 (Baltimore City)
  • June 14 (Prince George’s County)
  • June 15 (Queen Anne’s County)
  • June 16 (Cecil County)
  • June 20 (Anne Arundel County)
  • June 21 (Baltimore County)
  • June 22 (Charles County)
  • June 27 (Harford County)

Obviously they’re not soliciting the input of the Lower Eastern Shore, so the best route may be to send a comment directly to MDTA.

They defend the toll increase as necessary:

Two key forces are driving the proposal — paying for major construction work needed to keep these large, aging and expensive facilities both safe and operational and paying for additional highway capacity now under construction in the Baltimore and Washington regions.  MDTA’s tunnels, bridges and turnpikes are financially supported through tolls and not the State’s Transportation Trust Fund or General Fund. The additional revenue is needed to meet the current and future needs of these facilities.  The plan allows Maryland to offer some of the most generous commuter discounts in the country and keeps overall toll rates comparable with those elsewhere in the region.

(snip)

Toll revenues fund safety, rehabilitation, customer-service and improvement projects Statewide, including $132 million in repairs for the Thomas J. Hatem Memorial Bridge (US 40); $121 million in work for the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway (I-95); $225 million in repairs to the William Preston Lane Jr. Memorial (Bay) Bridge (US 50/301); $410 million in work for the three Baltimore Harbor crossings – the Fort McHenry (I-95, I-395) and Baltimore Harbor (I-895) tunnels and the Francis Scott Key Bridge (I-695); and $21 million in repairs to the Governor Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge (US 301).  In addition, the MDTA is constructing two major projects to address traffic congestion in Maryland.  They include the Express Toll Lanes along I-95 in the Baltimore region and the Intercounty Connector in the Washington region.

It has been years, decades in some cases, since the MDTA raised many of its toll rates.  The Bay Bridge toll rate for passenger vehicles is lower now than when the original span opened in 1952, when drivers of passenger cars paid $2.80 round trip, plus $.25 per passenger.  Toll rates for passenger vehicles were last raised in 2003 at the Baltimore toll facilities, the Kennedy Highway and the Hatem Bridge and in 2001 at the Nice Bridge. Commuter toll rates were last raised in 1985 for Baltimore toll facilities and in 1983 for the Bay and Nice bridges. Toll rates for vehicles with three or more axles were last raised at all facilities in 2009.

The funds to finance, operate, preserve, maintain, improve and protect Maryland’s eight toll facilities come directly from the tolls that customers pay.  The MDTA combines toll revenue from all facilities to pay operating costs and the debt on bonds that are issued to fund major projects.  Revenue “pooling” makes the MDTA financially strong with top bond ratings that reduce borrowing costs.

It’s understandable that repairs need to be made on aging infrastructure, but the increases seem rather excessive to those of us on the Eastern Shore when we’re not getting any of the new work. Why not leave the tolls alone on the Bay Bridge (or perhaps enact a modest increase, maybe $1 total phased in over the two years) but ramp up tolls in the areas receiving the work? It’s worth mentioning the the Inter-County Connector between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties is exempt from the toll increases, yet much of the money extracted from other areas will go to finish that. Since Baltimore is getting the new express lanes, they can pay for that work with tolls increasing at a more modest pace.

In truth, the one thing which seems to upset people the most isn’t necessarily the rate hikes, but their scale. Just because tolls haven’t been raised in x number of years is no excuse to make it up all at once, but that’s what they wish to do. Others fret that the money will simply disappear into that giant black hole known as the state’s General Fund instead of funding the needed improvements. It’s not like we have a governor who would do such a thing, you know.

These fears are justified, particularly when this is couched as a continuation of the “War on the Shore.” Adding $20 or more per week to an Eastern Shore commuter’s toll is $1,000 per year less they can spend supporting local businesses. And don’t believe for a minute that those who oppose urban sprawl don’t support this move – it retards development on this side of the bridge and encourages mass transit. If a lane is ever added to the Bay Bridge, I can all but guarantee it will be one of those multi-passenger express lanes instead of one just anyone could use.

Make sure to make your voice heard!

 

  • I haven't. Have you?
  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Link to Maryland Democratic Party

    In the interest of being fair and balanced, I provide this service to readers. But before you click on the picture below, just remember their message:

  • Part of the Politics in Stereo network.