OCEAN CITY — Gov. Larry Hogan called on leaders of 157 incorporated local governments in Maryland to partner with him to push his transportation agenda, vowing that his success would in turn help them.
Hogan made his comments Tuesday night during a 10-minute speech to nearly 700 officials from around the state — more than the population of 484 in Friendsville in Western Maryland — attending the annual Maryland Municipal League summer conference. The speech also marked the first time Hogan appeared before the group after missing last year’s event while undergoing cancer treatments.
Hogan touched on the mainstay themes of his 17-month administration, including economic development and restoring transportation funding to local governments. Hogan also painted the Democratic-controlled legislature as attempting to thwart his efforts to restore funding for roads and highway priorities around the state.
“Unfortunately the legislature this year attempted to kill every single one of these important road improvements and to usurp power of municipal and county governments as well as the executive branch of state government,” Hogan said. “They actually overrode a veto of a terrible bill drafted by special interests which would jeopardize nearly all the road and bridge improvements in nearly every jurisdiction in the state that are most important to you, your communities and to nearly all the citizens in Maryland. We cannot and we will not let that happen.”
Earlier this year, the legislature approved a bill that would require the state Department of Transportation to prioritize projects based on a number of criteria, including the impact on population, traffic congestion, the environment and economic development. Hogan chided the legislature for micromanaging the executive branch and attempting to funnel money into larger jurisdictions at the expense of rural areas he and others complain were forgotten during two terms of Gov. Martin O’Malley.
Those affected areas — which saw up to 96 percent of their state road aid slashed — also happen to be the most Republican areas of the state and the foundation of Hogan’s support in the 2014 gubernatorial election.
But Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz, who is the incoming president of the association that represents Maryland county governments, accused Hogan of “playing fast and loose with the facts” related to transportation and education funding.
“From the Baltimore region perspective, he canceled the Red Line (light-rail project), had no plan B,” said Kamenetz, a Democrat who is widely considered to be a potential challenger to Hogan in 2018. “We’re still stuck in traffic, and he stole the money that was devoted toward solving the region’s transportation problems and disbursed it for rural road projects that don’t solve our problems and frankly aren’t the highest and best use. I guess it will be faster to drive from West Virginia to Pennsylvania or faster to get to traffic jams in Delaware on Route 404 but in terms of dollars spent for cars passed it’s not the most prudent investment, and it’s not thoughtful.”
Kamenetz called the bill passed by the legislature reasonable and said it was in direct response to Hogan’s change of direction on transportation funding.
Hogan, in his speech, said he used the money to address 84 projects representing the top priorities in each jurisdiction as well as to pay for repairs to every structurally deficient bridge. Hogan also touched on a promise he made in 2014 to fully restore state aid for local roads to their previous levels before the cuts of the last eight years.
Kamenetz said the governor so far has failed to deliver on that promise.
“He hasn’t restored it, OK?” Kamenetz said. “Look, I’m grateful for every dollar we get from the state but we went from $45 million to now $4.5 million. It was news to me that he restored it because we, Baltimore County, hasn’t seen that check.”
According to data from the state Department of Legislative Services posted on the Maryland Association of Counties’ website, Baltimore County received $5.2 million in state highway aid in fiscal 2017 compared to just shy of $5 million the previous fiscal year.
Hogan vowed to fight against such measure as the transportation bill the legislature passed this year and called on local officials to assist in his effort.
“Maryland’s municipalities will continue to grow stronger as we continue this progress together,” Hogan said. “But to continue on this new path, we will need the help of everyone in this room. No governor can effectively govern this state without a strong partnership between the state and all of our local leaders working together . You have my commitment that with our administration, you will continue to have a friend in the governor’s office, and you will always find a sympathetic ear, a seat at the table and an administration that will be fighting on your behalf each and every day.”