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Commercial real estate group backs transportation ‘lockbox’

Adam Bednar//Daily Record Business Writer//November 3, 2014

Commercial real estate group backs transportation ‘lockbox’

By Adam Bednar

//Daily Record Business Writer

//November 3, 2014

Maryland’s largest commercial real estate association is urging its members to back a constitutional amendment creating a transportation fund “lockbox,” saying it could decrease costs associated with development in the state.

On Tuesday, voters will cast their ballots for or against Question 1, which would make it harder for governors to use money from the state’s transportation fund to balance the budget. Tom Ballentine, a lobbyist for NAIOP Maryland’s chapters, said the raiding of the funds mean there’s less money for local governments to help pay for infrastructure improvements, which means costs are being passed onto developers.

“It’s really a good government kind of measure. Transportation money, when it’s raised through taxes and other kinds of fees, should be spent on transportation projects, and that hasn’t always been the case in the past,” Ballentine said.

On Monday NAIOP sent an email to its members urging them to support the constitutional amendment.

If approved, the amendment would require the governor to declare a “financial emergency” and then have a measure pass by three-fifths of each house of the General Assembly before transportation funds could be transferred. Critics of the amendment, which was placed on the ballot to make an increase in the state gas tax more palatable, argue the lockbox doesn’t go far enough.

Del. Susan Krebs, who sponsored or co-sponsored legislation creating a transportation fund lockbox for about a decade, said she supports the amendment, but called it weak because language defining what revenues go into the trust fund were stripped from the bill that passed the General Assembly on Sine Die in 2013.

“Without that definition in the Constitution all you have to do is change the law and say, ‘OK we’re going to put less of the registration fees in.’ So taking out the definition of it was a huge change that made it not very strong,” Krebs said.

The trust fund’s revenue streams include the state’s gas tax, vehicle registration fees and federal transportation funds. The money is supposed to be used for transportation purposes, including building and maintaining state roads, funding Baltimore’s MTA system and support for the Port of Baltimore.

Those funds have been used by governors of both parties during the last 20 years to help patch over budget shortfalls. But Gov. Martin O’Malley’s administration sought, and the General Assembly approved, slashing highway user funds, resulting in the counties receiving about $1.1 billion less for local road work.

“There might be road improvements that are prerequisites to development approval for new projects, or even a change in tenant that’s more traffic intensive may trigger offsite improvements that are sometimes related to those projects, and sometimes unrelated, that have to get done just to meet infrastructure needs,” Ballentine said. “It just becomes a general drag on economic development.”

NAIOP is just one of the organizations that make up the Coalition to Protect Maryland’s Transportation Fund. Other organizations include the Maryland Association of Realtors, the Maryland League of Conservation Voters and Red Line Now.

But despite the wide range of support, Ballentine said he did not know how the ballot measure would perform on Election Day. He expressed concern the language on the ballot may confuse some voters.

“I don’t know that there’s a huge amount of awareness about the amendment being on the ballot. Even then when you read it it’s not crystal clear what it does,” he said.


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