State trans­porta­tion bill passes Se­nate

Cecil Whig - - LOCAL - By JOSH BOLLINGER

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

AN­NAPO­LIS

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.

PHOTO COURTESY OF USLMRA

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.

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