From State Sen. J.B. Jennings:
Starting Tomorrow, Marylanders will have a chance to vote yes or no on referendum Question 1. The question prohibits the state from borrowing monies from the Transportation Trust Fund for non-transportation purposes, unless the Governor declares a fiscal emergency and the transfer of funds is approved by 60% of the Maryland Senate and House of Delegates. The ballot question approved by the 2013 General Assembly is known as the “Transportation Trust Fund Lockbox.” Its obvious purpose is to protect monies in the Fund for the transportation purposes for which they are meant.
For the past thirty years Maryland’s governors and legislators have approved robbing Peter to Pay Paul to cover shortfalls in the budget. In this case, “Peter” has been the Transportation Trust Fund – TTF – revenue, which is supposed to fund transportation needs, and “Paul” is the state’s operating budget.
For the past three decades, a total of $640.1 million has been taken from the TTF to balance the budget, with the agreement to pay it back. According to the Department of Transportation, the reimbursement is expected to total $656.3 million by the end of Fiscal 2016. It appears that the state has kept its promise to pay its debt to the TTF. Nevertheless, I encourage you to vote “yes” on Question 1. The Transportation Trust Fund should not serve as a tempting honey pot for governors to dip into for purposes other than transportation needs.
Critics of Question 1, point out that “fiscal emergency” is not defined and that there are other transportation funds that have been taken by the state no agreement to pay them back. Indeed, in 2009 during the recession, the state altered the formula for local transportation aid known as Highway User Revenue – HUR. Under the HUR formula change, the state now keeps 71.5% for the Department of Transportation, 19.3% for the general fund and 7.5% for Baltimore City. The counties are left with 1.7% of the funds. Prior to the formula change, the state kept 70% of HUR and sent 30% to the counties to be divided based on road mileage and vehicle registrations. While the state is expected to rake in $1.75 billion in HUR, the counties will receive a meager $167.5 million. Baltimore County’s $39.3 million share of HUR has shrunk 90.9%, and Harford County’s $14.9 million share of HUR decreased 89.9%. HUR was the only way local governments had to fund local road repair and maintenance.
The state shows no inclination to return any HUR to the counties. The O’Malley Administration has gone on record as explaining its failure to return HUR to the counties, contending that since HUR is kept as a separate account, taking money from it does not constitute a debt. I cannot comprehend how taking over $1 billion from the counties does not constitute a DEBT TO BE PAID. As I see it, money set aside for general transportation needs or specific transportation needs, should be kept for those purposes only. If legally used for any other purpose, the funds should be paid back. Voters’ approval of Question 1 will bring clarity to conditions under which the state can borrow money from the TTF. However, Question 1 does nothing to address neither the state’s raid on local road funds nor its failure to agree to repay the funds.
So when you head to your election precinct, I ask that you FOR Question 1 and help save our Transportation Trust Fund.
Senator J.B. Jennings