Thursday, March 21, 2013

HELP: Transportation Funding Facing "Do or Die" Moment in Maryland House // PLUS: O'Malley & Robin Ficker Ready to Duel


HELP: MARYLAND HOUSE ON THE VERGE OF APPROVING CRITICAL TRANSPORTATION FUNDING, BUT SOME LAWMAKERS WAVERING - Last night, the Maryland House of Delegates moved forward with a much-needed plan to raise transportation funds for the state's numerous stalled projects (think everything from highway maintenance to new transit lines like the Purple Line & Red Line). Even our neighbors in anti-tax Virginia have approved tax increases to pay for their transportation improvements & transit (details below).

But it appears that some Maryland Democrats are wavering and may need some encouragement.  Nobody wants to increase the cost of prices at the pump, but this is the only legislative vehicle we have to finally get transportation funds flowing in Maryland -- a prerequisite to boosting economic development in the places that drive Maryland's economy (like say Montgomery County).

The Maryland House could take a final vote on the transportation funding plan as early as tomorrow, and every vote will be needed. A knowledgeable source has indicated that the following Montgomery County lawmakers may need some encouragement. Please tap these folks on the shoulder and encourage them to support the Governor's transportation funding plan:

LINES BEING DRAWN OVER GAS TAX ISSUE - Yesterday The Washington Post reported that supporters of Gov. Martin O'Malley's transportation funding package are getting ready to go to battle to defend the plan. O'Malley's allies are apparently raising money for a voter engagement effort (excerpt below):
WASHINGTON POST: A group led by some allies of Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) has been raising money and trying to mobilize public support for legislation to increase transportation funding.

The group, known as Broad Stripes/Bright Stars, has helped pay for ads on the Web sites of both The Washington Post and Baltimore Sun. And it has coordinated phone calls to lawmakers weighing a bill sponsored by O’Malley to boost funding for road and mass transit projects, according to organizers.... O’Malley’s plan, which was tweaked this week by a House committee, relies heavily on a new sales tax on gasoline. It is projected to yield $3.4 billion over five years....

A recent fundraising solicitation sent out by the group, obtained by The Post, says that “all monies will be directed into voter engagement about the once-in-a-generation opportunity to get Maryland moving again....”

ROBIN FICKER DEPLOYS ROBOCALLS AND LAWNSIGNS AGAINST GAS TAX - Maryland transportation boosters are likely wise to be preparing for political battle over the gas tax. After all, Montgomery County's persistent anti-tax activist Robin Ficker is already making noise over the issue. I spied the lawnsign below in Montgomery County recently, and several sources recently reported receiving robocalls about the gas tax, purportedly from Ficker:
  • REPORT #1: Talked with someone just now who got a robocall asking them to oppose "Governor O'Malley's 18-cent gas tax."  Unfortunately, they hung up before the end and didn't hear whether it gave any sponsoring name.
  • REPORT #2: Yes, my Aunt here in Potomac must have received that same phone call. She only heard the message once, but she's pretty sure the message said it was from Robin Ficker.
It does appear that Robin Ficker is behind the robocalls, as he posted the following Facebook message right around the time the reports started coming in:

TRANSIT PROJECTS ARE TOP PRIORITIES FOR DEMOCRATS - Robin Ficker notwithstanding, transportation projects (and transit lines in particular) are becoming top priorities for ambitious Democrats. A Maryland Juice source noted, for example, that Howard County Executive Ken Ulman recently spoke to members of the Action Committee for Transit and pledged support for the Prince George's & Montgomery County Purple Line (a light rail line that would run East-West from New Carrollton to Bethesda). Notably, Ulman's visit comes after fellow gubernatorial candidates Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown and Del. Heather Mizeur also met with the group and pledged similar support for the Purple Line.

Indeed, a large community of advocates is quickly emerging to try and bolster chances that Maryland will raise a significant amount of funds for transportation this year. Many of these advocates are specifically hoping to see a surge in funding for Maryland's stalled transit projects. To be sure, Maryland has been underfunding transportation for years, but the state's transit projects have been disproportionately affected. Meanwhile, voters around the state seem unaware that taxpayers and transit-riders have been subsidizing auto use for decades (and continue to do so). But times are changing....

THE FUTURE IS HERE: YOUNG PROFESSIONALS PREFER TRANSIT-ACCESSIBLE COMMUNITIES - Just Up the Pike blogger Dan Reed recently reported on how the younger demographics that communities need to attract to survive are increasingly seeking transit-accessible housing. Reed notes that Montgomery County's metro stations attract young professionals, but that more priority needs to be given to these issues:
JUST UP THE PIKE: Trends show that Millennials want an urban lifestyle, but are often stymied by limited funds and a dearth of affordable housing.... The county's largest concentrations of Millennials are along the Red Line in places like White Flint, downtown Bethesda and downtown Silver Spring, where young adults are a slim majority. Notably, these are also the places where walking, biking and taking transit to work are most common....
These maps have implications not just for Montgomery County, but the whole region. They show that the District and Arlington aren't the only places that can attract Millennials, so long as they can be near neighborhoods near transit, shopping and jobs. While many young families are choosing to live further out, they're still seeking a semi-urban experience.
They also show that one of Montgomery's greatest strengths remains its diversity of neighborhoods, allowing it to attract both singles and families. However, two distinct challenges lie ahead. One is to preserve a supply of affordably-priced housing in the county's urban areas, both established places like Bethesda or emerging ones like White Flint. The other is to create more walkable neighborhoods and improve access to jobs, shopping and transit in the Upcounty and East County, where young families continue to settle.
Of course, Millennials aren't the only ones who want an urban or semi-urban lifestyle. But if Montgomery County wants to attract a new generation of residents, it needs to start listening to young adults. Without us, the county doesn't have much of a future.

THE REAL THREAT FROM VIRGINIA IS NOT TAX RATES // THEY'RE CREATING LARGE AMOUNTS OF TRANSIT-ACCESSIBLE HOUSING IN QUALITY NEIGHBORHOODS - Maryland lawmakers have been complaining for years about how the state is becoming less competitive with neighboring Virginia for jobs, investment and residents. Time and again, politicians have pointed to Virginia's lower tax rates as evidence that Maryland is doing something wrong. They have used the threat of an aggressive and hostile neighbor on our border as reason to justify all manner of anti-tax hysteria in Maryland, including allowing our "millionaires tax" to expire.

But Northern Virginia residents and lawmakers have for years been plagued by problems relating to the state's rabid anti-tax political base, and policymakers have been exasperated by their inability to fund the state's growing transportation priorities..... until recently.

First, Virginia made a huge leap forward by finding funding to build a new Metro "Silver Line" to Dulles Airport. And now Virginia is raising billions of dollars for additional transportation improvements and transit funding. The reality is that the bread and butter for Maryland's revenues is our high quality of life and solid neighborhoods, which are obviously all aided by our proximity to the Federal government.
But now Virginia is moving forward with their own transportation improvements, and they are threatening to put Maryland to shame. The Richmond-Times Dispatch today explained what Virginia's transportation funding plan would mean for the state (excerpt below):
RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH: For the first time in four years, Virginia’s six-year plan for road construction will mean something. The state would receive an additional $4 billion for its six-year plan ... under legislation awaiting the signature of Gov. Bob McDonnell that would raise state tax revenues for transportation for the first time in 27 years....

The complex funding package would result in almost $3 billion for highway construction projects.... McDonnell has not said whether he will propose any changes in the legislation ... but his administration is moving ahead swiftly in planning for the new funding, which also would add about $1 billion for mass transit.... Cities and counties, for example, would receive an estimated $125.6 million in 2017-2019 for their priorities.

“The revenues generated by (the legislation) will breathe new life into Virginia’s transportation program,” [John W. Lawson, chief financial officer of the Virginia Department of Transportation] concluded.

Will Maryland politicians find the courage to fund our future?

P.S. LOCKHEED TAX CUT VS. GAS TAX INCREASE? - For those of you following the debate over the Lockheed Martin corporate welfare bill in Maryland, it should be noted that some politicos (and Robin Ficker) are already comparing the gas tax increase to the proposed Lockheed handout. Indeed, it would seem absurd for lawmakers to raise the gas tax on ordinary Marylanders at the same time they give Lockheed Martin millions of dollars in tax cuts. Thousands of Marylanders are watching Del. Sheila Hixson's handling of the Lockheed bill in the House Ways & Means committee - live on Facebook:

No comments:

Post a Comment