AAA Mid-Atlantic put out a press release that does a good job of explaining the Maryland Transportation Authority's new fees and toll increases that take effect Wednesday. Unfortunately it goes on to blow a little smoke concerning its role.
AAA was actually late to the fight over the $1.50-a-month E-ZPass fee that has so many folks upset. It originally supported the revenue package. It was AWOL at the meeting of the transportation authority board where the new charges were actually voted upon. It only started expressing opposition after hearing from members.
In today's release, it bloviates about its petition effort to get Gov. Martin O'Malley to overturn the board's action. As AAA knows very well, the governor does not have that power.
AAA spokeswoman Ragina Averella explained that what the AAA meant to say was that it wanted O'Malley to persuade the board to rescind. The problem is, that would be perceived as political pressure. And for the board to be seen as bowing to such pressure carries a big risk.
You see, the bond market, and bond rating agencies, value the independence of a toll authority's board -- knowing that necessary toll increases will never be popular with elected officials. If a governor or legislature started to monkey with the actions of an independent board to score political points, the bond rating agencies could decide a downgrade was in order. The increased cost of the authority's borrowing could set back its maintenance efforts for years.
AAA is usually a trusted source of information and a responsible advocate on behalf of motorists. In this case, it put pandering to the masses over the need to maintain its credibility.
By the way, authority operations director Randy Brown tells me that Maryland expects to begin July with more E-ZPass subscribers than it did on Jan. 1. While about 19,000 subscribers have dropped their accounts, about 27,000 people have opened new accounts. The rate of growth has been slowed but hardly stopped.
Brown also told me that more than 72,000 of the authoriity's 500,000 accounts as of Jan. 1 hadn't used their transponders in the previous 12 months. He said Maryland -- meaning fellow ratepayers -- paid $1.9 million to keep their accounts open.
"It's going to be a good business move to have customers who don't use their account to close it," he said.
His statement may not be "sensitive" but it is correct.
Here's the AAA release:
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