Former Baltimore County executive in talks about Maryland transportation secretary job

Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) is in renewed discussions with former Baltimore County executive James T. Smith Jr. (D) about becoming state transportation secretary, according to several people familiar with the talks.

The Cabinet-level post has been open for almost a year, following the resignation last summer of Beverley Swain-Staley. O’Malley has been criticized by even some fellow Democrats for taking so long to name a replacement.

Smith, whose second term as county executive ended in 2010, could not immediately be reached for comment Tuesday. O’Malley spokeswoman Raquel Guillory said the governor hopes to have an announcement about a transportation secretary soon but would not comment beyond that.

Several sources said Smith, whose name surfaced months ago as a possible replacement, has been talking seriously to administration officials about the job in recent days but cautioned that there is no final deal. The sources requested anonymity because they are not authorized to speak for O’Malley.

Smith’s arrival would come at a key time. The transportation department is preparing to spend a major influx of revenue on road and transit projects as the result of a gas-tax increase passed by the General Assembly this year.

Legislative analysts estimate a combination of adjustments could lead to an increase at the pump of 13 to 20 cents per gallon by mid-2016. The increase will be phased in, with the first bump of about 4 cents a gallon coming in July.

According to O’Malley aides, Joseph C. Bryce, the governor’s former chief lobbyist, was among those previously considered for the transportation secretary post. Bryce, a former Miller aide, has since left the administration to become a lobbyist with Manis Canning & Associates.

Separately Tuesday, O’Malley swore in Joseph P. Gill as his new secretary of the Department of Natural Resources. Gill replaces John R. Griffin, who has been named O’Malley’s new chief of staff.

John Wagner has covered Maryland government and politics for The Post since 2004.
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