From the Senate Minority Office:
At the request of Democratic legislators who opposed the move, members of the Senate Budget & Taxation Committee and the Senate Finance Committee gathered together at a joint hearing in their committee room Tuesday morning to question Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn and Bruce Gartner, the Executive Director of the Maryland Transportation Authority (MdTA), about the potential impact that Governor Larry Hogan’s recently introduced toll reduction plan may have on the state.
Secretary Rahn defended the reductions made to tolls throughout the state, saying, “Governor Hogan believes it is more important to have dollars in the pockets of taxpayers instead of those dollars resting on the balance sheet of the Maryland Transportation Authority. Our toll reduction plan has been done responsibly and with putting public safety foremost in returning these funds to taxpayers.”
That plan returns $54 million per year to hardworking Marylanders by, among other things, increasing the E-ZPass discount at all toll facilities throughout the state, reducing the two-axle cash rate at the Bay Bridge from $6 to $4 round trip, and by removing the E-ZPass monthly account fee.
“What we learned at today’s hearing is that the 2012 toll increases under Governor Martin O’Malley were excessive,” chided Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings (R – Harford and Baltimore Counties). “The Senate Republican Caucus fully supports Governor Hogan and Secretary Rahn’s proposal that, with fiscally prudent leadership, we can reduce these tolls without any reduction of services or elimination of projects.”
Senate Minority Whip Steve Hershey (R – Upper Shore) cautioned, “These proceedings are disingenuous, because today the General Assembly engaged on the issue of toll changes, whereas in 2011 it remained passive. There was no legislation approved, no hearings held. Yet today, we witnessed a hearing that questioned the Authority’s move to lower tolls. I attended six of the twelve public hearings across the state and there was no citizen outcry for higher tolls. Today, we did hear outcry, outcry from legislators who incredulously wish to maintain a high toll structure.”
Senator Andrew Serafini (R – Washington County) addressed some concerns that the toll reductions may have a negative impact on the state’s credit rating or that of the MdTA: “While initially there was a warning from one of the credit agencies, after a comprehensive review of the toll reduction plan, the credit agencies have affirmed the Authority’s AA bond rating, the highest possible available for such agencies. I’ve reviewed the credit rating reports, and the Authority’s rating is very strong—ranked above most other states.”