Cumberland Times-News

April 7, 2013

‘Cash cow’

Stop the raiding of Maryland’s ‘cookie jar’

Cumberland Times-News

— When little kids do it, it’s called “raiding the cookie jar.” When governors and legislatures do it ... “raiding the cookie jar” is as good a description as any.

Some people actually refer to Maryland Transportation Trust Fund as the state’s “cookie jar” because that’s how it’s been treated.

Recently passed legislation will impose a gradual increase of about 20 cents per gallon in Maryland’s gasoline taxes over the next few years — starting with 4 cents in July.

Gov. Martin O’Malley says the money is needed to replenish the transportation fund. Reports are that it will go broke by 2017 if no action is taken.

Another justification is that the state’s gas tax has remained the same for more than 20 years. Just because a tax hasn’t been increased doesn’t mean it should be, particularly when the adverse economic impact is considered.

The last thing Maryland’s economy needs right now is a tax increase of any kind, but few people in Annapolis seem to realize this.

Published reports indicate that close to $1 billion was transferred from the transportation fund to the general fund between 2003 and 2011 to help balance the budget, and that another $2 billion has gone the same route in the last two years. (To be fair, this has taken place under both Democratic and Republican governors.)

One result is that funds allocated by the state to counties and municipalities (which are running short of cash) for road maintenance have been diminished greatly in recent years, and so has the condition of many roads and bridges in those counties and municipalities.

Balancing budgets by using funds designated for specific purposes is by no means unique to Maryland. Other states do it, and so does Congress — which often raids the Social Security Trust Fund and federal Highway Trust Fund.

“Trust” fund? “Cash cow” is more like it.

However, the General Assembly is considering legislation to create a constitutional amendment that would ban use of Maryland’s transportation trust funds for any other purpose.

The measure should pass, so it can be submitted to the voters who — we hope — will put a lock on the lid of Maryland’s cookie jar.