Legislature overrides Hogan transportation veto
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.