Funding panel meets, but key topics evaded
The Blue Ribbon Commission on Maryland Transportation Funding, set up by the General Assembly this year in an effort to do something about a glaring problem without upsetting anyone in an election year, kicked off its efforts Monday with a briefing by transportation leaders. What was most interesting was not what they said, but the topics officials glided over.
The largely news-free meeting was primarily a briefing of the commission members, who represent a broad swath of stakeholders in the state, about the basic structure and condition of the transportation system in Maryland. As a primer, it was a good one, and certainly necessary to bring panel members up to speed on a complex topic.
What was striking, however, was how lightly officials touched on the main topic of the panel's study. Transportation Secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley said nothing about the department's former arguments in favor of indexing the gasoline tax to inflation. Harold Bartlett, acting chief of the Maryland Transportation Authority, said nothing about the agency's plans for future toll increases to keep up with maintenance of the system. Maryland Transit Administration head Ralign T. Wells didn't talk about the O'Malley administration's four years without raising fares.
Maybe these topics were just too unpleasant for a first meeting, but they go to the heart of the commission's work -- unless this is going to turn out to be yet another sterile exercise in buck-passing. Fares, taxes and tolls all need to be on the table if the panel's report is to have any credibility.
One bright spot: Attendance at the organizational meeting was very good, with almost every seat filled. The panel is very diverse -- representing the General Assembly, the counties, municipalities, labor, industry, environmentalists, railroads and the disabled -- among others. If given the unvarnished faccts, there's a good chance they can come up with solid recommendations.
As it was, the most useful information was probably imparted by Motor Vehicle Administrator John Kuo, who explained why it isn't necessary to join the scrum at an MVA office at the end of each month just because you've let your registration renewal come down to the last day. Kuo explained that drivers can renew on line, print out a receipt and put it in the rear window -- alerting police that the fee has been paid. The actual sticker comes by mail and can be affixed later.
Very useful information, but hardly likely to solve the state's transportation funding problems.