START transportation funding coalition forms

The State Transportation Alliance to Restore the Trust (START), a new statewide coalition of transportation advocates, has been formed to protect and enhance Maryland’s funding for transportation infrastructure.

The coalition’s formation was announced at a January 25 news conference in Annapolis. It is comprised of the Greater Baltimore Committee, the Greater Washington Board of Trade, the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, and 29 more organizations and businesses that support strengthening the state’s stagnant transportation funding. (View full list.)

The primary objectives of the new coalition are to convince state lawmakers to stop raiding the state’s Transportation Trust Fund for non-transportation uses, to restore highway user revenue to local jurisdictions, and to find a way to increase revenue to the transportation fund by at least $400 million per year.

That’s the minimum amount of new revenue needed to adequately maintain the state’s transportation resources and to begin to address a more than $40 billion backlog of highway, transit, port and airport facilities that are planned by the state, but not yet funded for construction, according to advocates.

“Our first message to elected officials is that we need to restore ‘trust’ in the Transportation Trust Fund,” said Donald C. Fry, president and CEO of the Greater Baltimore Committee. “Everyone needs to know that their gas tax dollars and other transportation fees that they pay into the trust fund are being used for the transportation purposes for which they are intended.”

State Senator Robert J. Garagiola (D-Montgomery) announced that he is putting together a legislative package to strengthen revenue to the Transportation Trust Fund and to enact a state constitutional amendment to create a firewall protecting the fund from current and future use for non-transportation purposes.

“Due to the great recession and current fiscal constraints, Maryland’s Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) has been depleted. The TTF needs an infusion of $400-600 million of new revenue to address our road, transit, and infrastructure needs,” said Garagiola. He added that a fund firewall is necessary because in convincing constituents that an increase in revenue for transportation infrastructure is needed, “I want to be able to go to them and say ‘this money will go to transportation.’ “

During the last 25 years, lawmakers have diverted more than $700 million from the Transportation Trust Fund to the General Fund for non-transportation purposes ranging from bank bailouts to balancing the state’s operating budget. While most of those transfers have been reimbursed, at least $127.1 million remains to be paid back.

The governor’s proposed budget for FY 2012 calls for transferring another $100 million from the Transportation Trust Fund to the state’s general operating fund. Since FY 2007, highway user revenues to counties have been cut by more than 96 percent – money that counties depend on to keep their roads in good shape and to fill potholes. Those cuts would continue under the governor’s proposed FY 2012 budget.

Meanwhile, Maryland’s road quality ranks 37th in the nation and the most recent Texas Transportation Institute report ranks the Washington, D.C. region first in the nation for traffic congestion, noting that D.C.-area drivers waste 70 hours per year sitting in traffic. The Baltimore region, where drivers suffer 50 hours of congestion delay annually, ranks 5th in the nation, according to the report.

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