State transportation bill passes Senate
Special from the Star Democrat
— Several amendments offered by Republicans on a transportation bill in the Senate failed to pass Thursday before the bill was ultimately approved by lawmakers who voted mostly along party lines.
The amendments addressed some concerns Republicans have been vocal about in their opposition to the bill — the Maryland Open Transportation Investment Decision Act of 2016.
The bill as amended would require the Maryland Department of Transportation to create a scoring system based on nine categories spelled out as Maryland’s transportation goals in the bill.
MDOT would give different weights to the nine categories — including safety, environmental stewardship, local priorities, among others — and factor them into the final score. The projects
would be ranked and chosen based on score, but the governor or MDOT secretary could choose a lowerscoring project over one that scores higher if they give a written reason.
The scoring system would only apply to major capital projects done by the Maryland State Highway Administration or Maryland Transit Administration, whose total cost for all phases is or exceeds $5 million and increases highway or transit capacity, improves transit stations or station areas, or improves highway capacity.
After the bill moved to the Senate following the House’s passage, a Senate committee amended the bill and added language stating that the scoring system can’t interfere with a system where local counties communicate their top priorities with MDOT for consideration to include them in the state Consolidated Transportation Plan, which was a concern of Republicans when the bill was originally introduced.
The Senate committee also added language that excludes projects from the scoring formula if they’re safety improvements that do not increase highway or transit capacity.
Democrats on Thursday and in previous debates have said that the bill is about bringing transparency to the state’s transportation project funding process.
Republican leaders on Thursday accused Democrats of rushing the legislation through both houses. Among those voices was Senate Minority Whip Steve Hershey (R-Upper Shore), who said lawmakers failed to be transparent with the bill during the legislative process, including a skipped bill hearing on the House of Delegates version of the bill in the Senate committee that most recently amended it.
“This bill has come across very quickly and it has been difficult for everybody to re- ally grasp their hands about what this bill actually does,” Hershey said.
Republicans in both the Senate and House of Delegates have claimed that the legislation from Democrats is a result of Republican Gov. Larry Hogan defunding the Baltimore Red Line light rail project, but funding every other county’s top project. Sen. Justin Ready (R-Carroll) said some Democrats supporting the bill might not see their support as retaliation, but added that it appears that way.
Hershey said the bill would force urban mass transit and rural road projects to compete against each other in the new proposed scoring system, and Republicans, including Hogan’s administration, say that would ultimately lead to money for projects being funded into select urban areas because the scoring system weighs more heavily for mass transit projects.
One of Hershey’s amendments, which most Democrats voted down, would have separated mass transit projects from being scored in the same category as road projects.
But, Democrats who amended the bill defended their position, saying that the Maryland Department of Transportation now has the power to develop the scoring system, and could do so in such a way that one type of project doesn’t outweigh another.
Sen. Guy Guzzone (DHoward) said transit and road projects were kept together under the scoring system for a reason.
“That’s where most of our folks move around ... and having them together makes the better argument ... and shows the public what we really value and how we value and how the department values it and how it prioritizes it,” Guzzone said. “Without these together, I don’t think it can be done.”
Another amendment Hershey offered would have required a task force be put together and study creating a system to rank transportation projects. Ready’s amendment was of a similar nature. Both failed to pass, along with several other amendments offered by Republicans, one of which completely took mass transit out of the scoring system and another which grandfathered projects currently in the Consolidated Transportation Plan process to prevent them from being scored and possibly losing traction.
The bill ultimately passed the Senate by a 28-17 vote, setting it up for a veto by Hogan. However, Democratic lawmakers have enough time to override the veto before the end of the legislative session.
“I think we’ll be back here in another week to deal with it,” said Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings (R-Baltimore) on Thursday.
Bills passed with more than six days left in a legislative session must be vetoed by the governor within six days, giving the legislature an opportunity to override the veto during that legislative session.
Veto overrides require the votes of three-fifths of the members of both the Senate and the House of Delegates, requiring 29 votes in the Senate and 85 votes in the House. The legislation passed both houses by one vote short of that super majority, but with some lawmakers absent.
A USLMRA racing exhibition will be held at Jack’s Small Engines annual open house 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. this Saturday in Jarrettsville.