As the General Election approaches, Maryland voters have a unique opportunity to make a real difference in something that impacts the majority of Maryland citizens — the safety and preservation of our roads and bridges.
That’s why voting “for” Question 1 on Election Day is so important. By voting in support of Question 1, Maryland voters will place a “lock box” on the state’s transportation trust fund, which has been “raided” with such frequency over the years that it has commonly been referred to as the state’s “cookie jar.”
Over the years, Maryland elected officials — under Democratic and Republican administrations - have “borrowed” over 1.5 billion dollars from money that was collected primarily through fees and taxes on motorists.
While some of the “borrowed” funds have been paid back, over one billion dollars in local funds have never been repaid.
These monies, taken from county and municipal highway user funds, serve a critical need. They enable local jurisdictions to perform essential system preservation to help make our roads safer — such as fixing potholes and repairing local roads and bridges.
As a result of the diversions, many local transportation projects have gone unfunded.
Question 1 will make it more difficult to “borrow” from the transportation trust fund by amending the Maryland Constitution. The amendment ensures that the monies dedicated to the transportation trust fund — including state motor fuel taxes, transit fares, vehicle registration fees and other sources — can only be spent for transportation.
Future governors or state legislators would not be able to “borrow” from the trust fund once Question 1 goes into effect, unless the governor declares a fiscal emergency. Additionally, a threefifths supermajority vote in both houses would be required to approve the transfer.
AAA Mid-Atlantic and other transportation advocates, many of whom are part of the Coalition to Protect Maryland’s Transportation Fund, have been advocating for transportation trust fund protections for over a decade.
In fact, the Maryland Blue Ribbon Commission (BRC) on Transportation Funding, of which AAA was a member, made protecting the state’s transportation trust fund the number one recommendation to the Governor and Legislature in a report issued three years ago.
While transportation monies have been diverted, some Maryland roads and bridges have deteriorated and congestion persists. That’s why protecting our transportation dollars and ensuring they are used for transportation projects is so critical.
Maryland has a long list of local and state transportation improvement projects that would help reduce congestion, improve safety and mobility, create jobs, and boost our economy — but those projects could all be derailed if Maryland fails to protect the transportation trust fund.
Adding further urgency to passage of Question 1 is the large increase in transportation revenues approved in 2013, including an increase to the state’s gas tax, which could make borrowing from the fund even more inviting.
Question 1 and the “lock box” it places on the transportation trust fund will help ensure Maryland’s transportation dollars are used only for transportation projects and will put some much needed trust back into Maryland’s transportation trust fund.
Ragina Cooper Averella AAA Mid-Atlantic