Maryland legislators returned to their homes and their full-time occupations last week, no doubt congratulating themselves for taking care of business at their special session that they should have taken care during the 90 days of the regular session.
Now, the governor says we will have a second special session to deal with expanded casino gambling in Maryland, a.k.a. the great white whale of Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. And while they’re at it, the governor and legislative leaders may throw in some other pressing business, such as overruling the Court of Appeals decision that besmirched the reputation of pit bulls, much to the consternation of aficionados of that breed.
Meanwhile, the latest news from Washington brings more confirmation of the growing likelihood that Maryland will not able to meet the timetable for building the Red and Purple light-rail lines – two vital transportation projects for the state’s two population centers — because there isn’t enough money to construct both at the same time.
The Red Line in Baltimore is projected to cost $2.2 billion, and the Purple Line in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties is projected to cost $$1.9 billion. Construction on both is planned to begin in 2015.
The Washington Post reported this week that state financial documents submitted recently to the Federal Transit Administration show that one of the lines may have to be delayed as long as five years because of the funding crunch.
Asked if both could be built simultaneously without a tax increase, Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley told the Post, “Obviously, the short answer is no …”
How about this for a real issue that our elected leaders might tackle at a special session?
To date, the lack of leadership and action on transportation funding from Gov. Martin O’Malley, Mr. Miller and House Speaker Michael E. Busch has been disappointing, to say the least.
There was much expectation that Mr. O’Malley would push for a gas tax increase in this year’s regular legislative session. He was already armed with a study commission finding that Maryland’s transportation system is “on the verge of financial collapse,” and business leaders were falling in line behind the need for more revenue, probably in the form of increasing the state gas tax, which has not been raised since 1992.
Yet the governor made only a timid attempt at extending the state sales tax to include gasoline. When his proposal failed to gain traction amid rising gas prices and other fiscal concerns, he did not press the issue.
And so here we are, still badly in need of money to support transportation projects ranging from improvements for the Port of Baltimore — one of the state’s key economic engines – to upgrading traffic-clogged roads and aging bridges to building the Red and Purple lines to many more. These are all important projects that would keep goods and people moving efficiently and improve the quality of life for all Marylanders.
The urgency for action increases daily. No one expects the legislators to pass a tax increase in 2014, the next election year, so they need to act either at a special session in 2012 or at the 2013 regular session.
But most of all, Maryland’s leaders need to act.