Thursday, January 10, 2013

O'Malley to the Rescue!

from the Harford County Dagger
When Governor Martin O’Malley first ran for Governor, he said he wouldn’t balance the State’s budget on the “backs of local government.” He called it a “shell game.” He said, “It does not make us stronger if we balance the budget at the state level and leave a hole at the municipal government.” One of the reasons Senate President Mike Miller kept pulling out a threat of a Doomsday Budget was because of the damage it would cause to local governments and therefore local tax increases.

Of course, we all know that you can’t take what a politician says to the bank. You can probably take it to a casino and put it on the roulette wheel because you have the same chances of your number coming up as you do a politician holding true to their promise. We saw the State cut half of their aid on teacher pensions (which I entirely supported), but O’Malley said he didn’t cut any school funding for the local governments. Instead, what he did was cut Highway User Revenues and diverted them to the State General Fund. This left a huge hole in a county’s ability to pay for necessary road repairs (did I happen to mention O’Malley bemoaned the danger of not paying for road repairs after the Minnesota Bridge collapse). But at least our Governor was able to protect the children from a budget cut.

To give you a background on highway user revenue, it is funding given to the county based on a formula of the miles of roads compared to the total state in that municipality, and the number of vehicle registrations that municipality has. Now you might think that by me using the word municipality that includes Baltimore City, but Baltimore City is exempt from the calculation and just gets an arbitrary number. They can also use their money for things that other counties can’t such as traffic enforcement. Now Baltimore City will say, “Hey we have to pay for our own roads whereas the State pays for highways within the counties.” However, Baltimore City maintains roughly 1,900 miles of roadway and gets 7.7% of Highway User Revenue, the counties and municipalities combined maintain 24,000 miles of roadway and don’t even reach 2% of the Highway User Revenue funding (Pg 264). Just don’t tell that to Speaker Busch who swears that the rural areas get a windfall from the State.

Anyway, now that Martin O’Malley has raided the local Highway User Revenue funds to plug the budget gaps in the State, he wants more money for the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF). When he increased the alcohol tax, he also took away the percentage of that tax that went to the TTF, but that’s not considered raiding it because there is no intent to ever pay it back. On top of that, revenues from the gas tax and the titling tax were down by $13 million. Good thing we had higher taxes on corporations to make up the difference.

Governor Martin O’Malley is going to his good ol’ wheel house of raising taxes in order to get more funds to pay for a wish list of special programs. O’Malley wants an increase in the gas tax. He’s already had two failures on this front with a legislature dominated by 70% Democrats, one being to add the sales tax (a sneak way to do it since you won’t notice the rise in prices on the actual signs) and the second being an actual increase that is tied to inflation to increase for the rest of our lives. All “dedicated” to the Transportation Trust Fund.

Speaker Mike Busch whose chamber has been the opposition to the gas tax in the past wants to increase the sales tax (AGAIN) and “dedicate” that money to the Transportation Trust Fund.

I hope I showed you in this piece that there is no such thing as dedicated funding. Even if you have a constitutional amendment, as proposed by Senator “Gas Tax” Garagiola, the legislature can simply change what money goes into the TTF before the funds get there, so you aren’t raiding the fund, you are just denying it funds.

The other thing to consider is what will this money go toward? Baltimore City wants a new “Red Line” metro system to connect the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services and SSA in Western Baltimore County through the City to the Bayview campus .The D.C. suburbs want a “Purple Line” to follow I-495, and of course light rail system. Why do we need tax increases to cover these things? Because Maryland has a law that says that light rail must cover 35% of the cost through fares so the other 65% has to come from the Transportation Trust Fund. The legislature had to reduce the number from 40% to 35% because it hadn’t reached its goal in over 10 years. Heck, it hasn’t hit 35% in at least the last 6 years.

One if by gas tax, or two if by sales tax. Either way, rather than tackling any structural changes, setting reasonable expectations for the public, or even enforcing existing laws for mass transit recovery cost, let’s just increase some more taxes.

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