Cumberland Times-News

March 7, 2013

Must restore fair share of funds for locally-maintained roads

To the Editor:
Cumberland Times-News

— Across Maryland, local roadway crews are plowing snow to clear community roadways — part and parcel of the business of local government. Our citizens demand and deserve good, safe, and clear roads and bridges.

However, all too many of those local roads are covered with pock marks and potholes.

State support for local roads has nearly evaporated in recent years. Counties have no local transportation revenue options — so they look to the property tax, already weakened by a real estate decline.

Local roads are being left behind — and every storm event requiring local funds to plow and clear these essential roads makes the problem worse.

Maryland’s policy leaders are now focusing on transportation funding. If a new transportation investment is made, among the most important decisions is whether the plan should focus exclusively on major state highways and transit projects.

Motorists deserve better than that. Five out of every six road miles in the state are maintained by local governments — these are the roads our kids take to school, that get us to our jobs, and that get us home safely.

A plan that ignores this high priority is not a fair plan for Maryland citizens, who may be asked to pay more at the pump and expect their familiar roadways to be supported.

In Annapolis, there’s time to decide what the priorities are. Everyone now seems to believe that a transportation “lockbox” is essential — and the counties agree.

We agree particularly because the transportation funds that have been redirected to other purposes have been the local Highway User Revenues that used to support local roads and bridges.

That share of the gas tax got slashed in 2009 during the depths of the great recession — and was never scheduled to be repaid.

Counties recognized the unfortunate need for state budget-cutting during these toughest of times, but even today they still see only a nickel on the dollar of previous funding levels.

The momentum for the lockbox idea underlies the importance of local roads, and this “contract” with the motorists that they will benefit from their gas taxes.

If a new financing plan comes together, leaders in Annapolis need to bring a fair share of those funds back to Main Street.

Any plan without this is incomplete, and unfair to millions of Marylanders that count on quality county roadways.

 Richard M. Pollitt, president

Maryland Association of Counties

County executive, Wicomico County