Depressing regularity

You know, it seems like every time I see a release from Change Maryland they remind us exactly how many tax increases Martin O’Malley has inflicted on the state – the total is now 24, going on 25. Something tells me that they could probably provide the exact dollar amount raised by all these tax hikes and how far short of projections they came out to be – after all, if enough dollars were raised by tax hikes 1 through 24 we wouldn’t be discussing number 25, would we?

Anyway, here’s what Change Maryland’s Larry Hogan had to say about the latest drop in this Chinese water torture we commonly refer to as the tenure of one Governor Martin O’Malley:

The Governor complains that Maryland has crumbling roads and bridges and the worst traffic congestion in the country, but what he doesn’t tell you is that it’s his fault. There has been no comprehensive transportation strategy from the O’Malley administration. Over a billion dollars has been diverted from the Transportation Trust Fund, and the vast majority of the billions of dollars that has been spent on transportation have been wasted on expenses that are completely unrelated to fixing our road problems. Now he wants struggling Maryland families to pay for his mistakes and his lack of leadership.

Over the last 4 years, Governor O’Malley has spent over $1 billion in dedicated transportation funds for things completely unrelated to transportation – even the money left in the transportation budget was also spent in the wrong place. In his 2014 budget, O’Malley proposes to spend $1.1 billion – a whopping 46% of our state capital and operating transportation budget – on public transportation, even though only 8% of us use public transportation to commute.

What we need is a coherent transportation policy that makes roads a priority and realigns spending based on how Marylanders actually travel. We also need the Governor to restore all of the money he has diverted from the Transportation Trust Fund and immediately appoint a competent Secretary of Transportation. The last thing in the world Maryland needs is another tax increase.

Actually, I have to disagree with Larry on one point: there is a comprehensive transportation strategy going on with Martin O’Malley. It’s just not the one most people would consider.

Remember what happened when gas prices went up to $4 a gallon the first time, in 2008? People parked their cars and decided it was cheaper to use mass transit. While O’Malley can’t directly influence the price of oil because Maryland isn’t that large a piece of the overall energy market, he can work on the the perceived problem of traffic congestion in two ways: try to steer development to urban areas – as I’ll expound further on momentarily – and raise gas prices through taxation, not to fix the highways but to increase the footprint for and subsidy of mass transit. After all, the logical method of addressing problems in the traffic flow through adding capacity is so twentieth century, even though it works.

Several years ago the state assisted in the development of what was called a “Central Maryland TOD Strategy,” with TOD being the acronym for transit-oriented development. One of its strategies for encouraging this sort of “sustainable” development was the following:

The uncertainty and slow pace of financing for transit upgrades hampers the market for TOD. Regional transit financing tools, such as the FasTracks program in Denver, can accelerate the implementation of transit and TOD and build market momentum. These initiatives often face substantial political barriers, so a coordinated and effective regional outreach and messaging campaign is essential.

Guess what’s in the O’Malley gas tax proposal? A study on creating regional transit financing. Granted, the idea has some appeal because it would more than likely serve as a sort of user fee and hammer just those who live in the area served, but once that genie is out of the bottle it’s not going to be forced back in and we will see all sorts of new taxing districts, both inter- and intra-county. Imagine a higher flush tax for the septic-rich Eastern Shore, for example – in Salisbury Mayor Jim Ireton is proposing something along this line to come up with the city’s supposed nine-figure share of enacting the EPA’s Watershed Implementation Plan.

I’ve gone a little far afield in discussing this release, but one other goal mentioned in the Central Maryland TOD report was construction of the Red Line in Baltimore, and indeed that’s one of the prospective uses for the money raised by the gas tax, which, by the way, will automatically increase each year at the rate of inflation. No more messy votes for people like me to scour and make known.

That lack of accountability out of Annapolis is something else which happens with depressing regularity. How about making some changes to Maryland in 2014?