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Hogan makes repeal of Md. transportation bill ‘top priority’

Gov. Larry Hogan, left, speaks as Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn listens on Wednesday. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

A new state law that mandates each local transportation project be scored and ranked for state funding is being targeted for repeal by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan, left. Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn is seen standing behind him. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

ANNAPOLIS — A new state law that mandates each local transportation project be scored and ranked for state funding is being targeted for repeal by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan.

Hogan Wednesday told reporters he will make the repeal of the law, for which his veto had been overridden by legislators, his top priority in the 2017 legislative session. A repeal bill is expected to be introduced as emergency legislation as early as the first day of the session.

“Unfortunately this past session the legislature passed a horrible bill, which was drafted in secret, in backrooms by lobbyists and special interest groups,” Hogan said. “They rammed it through without hearings or any public input. It was voted on with no study and very little debate. Most legislators had no idea what they were voting on or why or what the draconian consequences of it would be.”

Hogan, who called the law “a catastrophic road kill bill,” made the announcement flanked by placards highlighting some of the more than six dozen projects in counties around the state that he said would not be funded as a result of the bill.

Hogan said the law would “literally kill more than 90 percent of the majority of the major priority transportation projects in every single jurisdiction across the state. These are the most desperately needed transportation projects in the state.”

Hogan’s news conference and responses from Democratic lawmakers who support the bill were peppered with charges of political motivations and accusations about misrepresentations of the new law.

“The people of Maryland want a transparent government where they understand how politicians are spending their money,” House Speaker Michael E. Busch said in a statement. “The law requires the governor to simply explain his spending decisions, not hide behind them.”

Hogan called out legislators — Del. Pam Beidle and Sen. James E. “Ed” DeGrange Sr., both Anne Arundel County Democrats — for their sponsorship of the bill.

Hogan said Busch, Beidle, DeGrange, “will be directly responsible for wiping out all of their home county’s most important projects, including upgrades to Maryland Route 3 and improvements to Route 175. They will be responsible for killing improvements to Route 198. They will be signing the death warrant for upgrades to the Severn River Bridge on Maryland Route 50, and they will eliminate the funding to widen Maryland Route 295.”

Beidle, who chairs the Motor Vehicle and Transportation Policy subcommittee of the House Environment and Transportation Committee, said Hogan is using the bill as cover for overpromising local jurisdictions on transportation projects and that the governor’s news conference contained “so many misstatements of facts.”

“Senator DeGrange and I were not asked to sponsor this bill because we are from Anne Arundel or District 32,” Beidle said. “The senator is the chair of the Transportation and Capital Projects subcommittee and I am the chair of the Motor Vehicle and Transportation Policy Sub-Committee. So it made sense that we would be the sponsors of a much-needed bill for transparency in process to fund transportation projects.”

Legislative analysts earlier this year told House and Senate fiscal leaders that proposed projects over the next six-years outpace funding by more than $1.6 billion.

“It seems he is using the scoring bill as the scapegoat of his inability to do the projects that he has overpromised,” Beidle said. “I wonder what he is funding if he is canceling all the projects he lists.”

Douglass Mayer, a Hogan spokesman, said legislative analysts historically “overestimate costs and underestimate revenues” when it comes to transportation projects. He said the issue is in no way related to the scoring bill.

“That aside, this scoring bill does nothing to contain cost,” Mayer said. “It’s a complete non sequitur. That’s a total red herring. I know why they say it, though. It sounds nice.”

A week ago, lawmakers on the Administrative, Legislative and Executive Review Committee delayed implementation of regulations drafted by Hogan’s transportation department for the new law.

Hogan said the move shows that lawmakers agree with him that the bill is bad.

“It seems that even the majority of them now realize that this bill was a horrible mistake,” Hogan said.

Hogan went on to accuse legislators of ramming the bill through the General Assembly without a hearing or public input.

In fact, House Bill 1013, which ultimately passed, received a full committee hearing and floor debate in the House of Delegates.

The bill was substantially altered in the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee and voted out of that committee a day before a scheduled public hearing. The move was done to meet a timeline for getting a final bill on Hogan’s desk before the end of the session and force him to sign or veto the legislation — which later allowed the General Assembly to override the veto before the end of the 2016 session.

Members of the committee said the delay was an attempt to open up negotiations with Hogan to improve what they said is a poorly written two-page set of regulations meant to deliver the doomsday scenario Hogan is railing against.

Sen. Roger Manno, D-Montgomery and cochair of the regulatory review committee, last week called the delay “an olive branch to the governor.

The delay is not permanent, and Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn said that, barring a repeal, those rules, which direct money to seven projects in as few as four counties, will go into effect on Feb. 10.

The bill has been the subject of much political debate between the governor and the Democratic majority legislature. The bill was introduced after many lawmakers complained about Hogan’s cancellation of the $2.9 billion Red Line light-rail project in Baltimore and the redirection of state funding to rural roads projects. Lawmakers said the current system of funding projects was not transparent enough.

Hogan and Rahn charge that the new law ties the hands of transportation officials and kills road projects in favor of transit-oriented projects in urban counties and Baltimore City.

Lawmakers who overrode the veto argue the governor has the flexibility to move lower scoring projects up the list and fund them as long as he provides written explanations for doing so.

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