Leg­is­la­ture over­rides Ho­gan trans­porta­tion veto

Dorchester Star - - Regional - By JOSH BOLLINGER jbollinger@star­dem.com Fol­low me on Twit­ter @ jbol­l_s­tar­dem.

AN­NAPO­LIS — On Fri­day, April 8, the Mary­land Se­nate over­rode Gov. Larry Ho­gan’s veto of a bill that changes the way the state eval­u­ates and chooses ma­jor trans­porta­tion projects, forc­ing the bill into law.

The move from the Demo­crat-con­trolled leg­is­la­ture fi­nal­ized the bill’s par­ti­san de­bate af­ter the House of Del­e­gates over­rode it the day be­fore. Democrats in the Se­nate needed 29 votes to over­ride the Repub­li­can gov­er­nor’s veto. The vote was 29-17.

Con­cerns from Repub­li­cans dur­ing lengthy de­bates re­mained through­out the bill’s time in the House and the Se­nate, but Democrats were quick to counter Repub­li­can claims that the new scor­ing sys­tem the bill cre­ates heav­ily fa­vors mass tran­sit projects.

“What this bill does — it is go­ing to force money to go to mass tran­sit projects,” said Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Whip Steve Her­shey, R-36-Up­per Shore.

Since the bill’s in­tro­duc­tion, Repub­li­cans have said that the bill — Mary­land Open Trans­porta­tion In­vest­ment De­ci­sion Act of 2016 — has goals that, when added up to cre­ate a score, heav­ily weigh in fa­vor of mass tran­sit projects in ur­ban ar­eas with higher pop­u­la­tions.

Repub­li­cans also say the bill hurts the cur­rent process with lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tions, which sub­mit pri­or­ity projects to the Mary­land De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion for con­sid­er­a­tion into the state’s trans­porta­tion project fund­ing plan. How­ever, an amend­ment to the bill states the new sys­tem can’t in­ter­fere with that process.

Democrats say the bill is an over­haul of the way Mary­land chooses trans­porta­tion projects to make the process more trans­par­ent.

The bill has also been heav­ily amended from its orig­i­nal lan­guage, some­thing done to ad­dress var­i­ous con­cerns by the Mary­land As­so­ci­a­tion of Coun­ties and Repub­li­cans, who still stood with Ho­gan against the bill un­til its pas­sage last week.

The bill es­tab­lishes nine goals un­der which ma­jor Mary­land Tran­sit Ad­min­is­tra­tion and State High­way Ad­min­is­tra­tion trans­porta­tion projects that cost $5 mil­lion or more are to be scored and ranked. There is an ex­cep­tion to safety projects, such as safety-re­lated im­prove­ments to a bridge.

The projects would be in­cluded by their rank into the draft Mary­land Con­sol­i­dated Trans­porta­tion Pro­gram, which is the state’s plan for fund­ing trans­porta­tion projects.

The bill, how­ever, al­lows the trans­porta­tion sec­re­tary to fund a lower scor­ing project over a higher scor­ing project by sub­mit­ting a writ­ten ex­pla­na­tion.

Dur­ing de­bates, Repub­li­cans protested the bill forc­ing the Mary­land De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion to fol­low the scor­ing sys­tem laid out in the orig­i­nal bill.

A spe­cific scor­ing sys­tem was later taken out, and the bill amended to re­quire the Mary­land De­part­ment of Trans­porta­tion to set its own weights to each goal and to fur­ther de­fine each goal.

Her­shey ar­gued, how­ever, that the way the goals were writ­ten in the bill fa­vors mass tran­sit, even af­ter the spe­cific scor­ing sys­tem was taken out of the bill.

Her­shey said dur­ing the fi­nal vote on Fri­day that those in fa­vor of the bill should work with those who have con­cerns, in­stead of mov­ing for­ward with a sys­tem “we haven’t been able to de­fine yet” and a scor­ing sys­tem that hasn’t been worked out.

“At the end of the day, this bill is about open govern­ment, trans­parency and data-driven de­ci­sion mak­ing,” said Sen. Bill Fer­gu­son, D46-Bal­ti­more City.

Repub­li­cans ac­cused Democrats of push­ing the bill through the leg­is­la­ture as re­tal­i­a­tion against Ho­gan de­fund­ing the planned eastwest Bal­ti­more mass tran­sit Red Line project, which has been a pri­or­ity for the area’s rep­re­sen­ta­tives for years, in fa­vor of more road pri­or­i­ties.

A Demo­crat in sup­port of the bill said af­ter the vote Fri­day that the bill was not about what hap­pened with the Red Line, but that state law­mak­ers have talked for years about how to ef­fec­tively al­lo­cate and steer re­sources for trans­porta­tion.

If the pol­icy doesn’t work, the Demo­crat said, law­mak­ers can al­ways fix it in the next leg­isla­tive ses­sion. The 2016 leg­isla­tive ses­sion came to a close at mid­night on Mon­day.

LARRY HO­GAN

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