Boondoggle: A public project of questionable merit that typically involves political patronage and graft
— The Oxford American College Dictionary
So Maryland left $900 million on the federal funds table when Governor Hogan canceled the Red Line. He also flushed $288 million in planning money spent over the last decade.
The Red Line, he said, was a boondoggle – a garden variety fleecing of the taxpayer.
But who’s really wasting money here? Hogan blamed his Democratic predecessors – who saw the Red Line spending as an investment. They thought the city’s future depended on a good transportation system. The Red Line was a start.
Not to be. Maryland goes to the end of the line for transportation dollars. We might make our way to the front again in a decade, give or take.
Hogan’s decisions dashed the hopes of working people and community leaders who looked at the line as a lifeline.
Undoubtedly, he made his rural and suburban supporters happy. But Baltimore felt a body blow. In the midst of a center city renaissance, an influx of people eager for public transit are left to re-think their decision to go car-less.
Now we know
So what lessons have we learned from all this?
We know now we elected a conservative Republican determined to act like one. Promises to work across the partisan line in Annapolis pale in the gloom of a no-Red-Line body blow.
We learned that big government projects can be canceled in midstream if we elect governors who have no stake in the program. We should have known.
Killing a project like the Red Line would be in wheelhouse of any conservative governor. Projects like this one are easy to kill. They’re expensive. Someone always hates some aspect of them: the cost, the route, the inevitable overruns and the usual claque of not-in-my-backyard naysayers.
All of that potential opposition is dwarfed by political death blows. It can’t be overruled. Saying no is well within a governor’s prerogatives.
Hogan didn’t want to spend the money. A solid majority of Marylanders wanted such a governor.
Fair enough. But to call the Red Line a boondoggle as he did, is piling on, looking for ways to justify the loss of all that money.
Very shortsighted in any event.
Government labors under enough opprobrium. Some people hate regulations – government regulation even the ones designed to find real boondoggles.
To call the Red Line a boondoggle is to suggest there was no need for the project or that some miscreant had infiltrated the process and figured out how to get a payoff.
Or maybe it’s just another way to make an old point: Democrats spend your money on Red Lines that have no useful purpose.
Call it unaffordable. Say the plan was faulty. But don’t say the fix was in. It just reinforces the stereotype of wasteful government activity.
Who knows, governor, you might even want to try some expensive idea yourself.
Business leaders thought the rail line would connect with enough transportation lines to give the Baltimore region something like a transportation system. They thought it would help workers get to their jobs. They thought it would attract new businesses – enough workers and businesses to make it seem like a worthwhile investment.
To be fair, no one worked at making the contrary case: that the city and the state would be stronger if business in the Baltimore region could point to a stronger transportation system.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake could have done this.
But it wouldn’t have mattered.
If you live in the city you’re on your own.
C. Fraser Smith is senior news analyst for WYPR. His column appears Fridays in the Daily Record. His email address is email@example.com.