Senate president Miller spars with House Republicans over transportation funding

Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller addresses the Senate on the last day of the legislative session in 2012. (AP Photo/Steve Ruark)

So far, there’s been a lot more talk than action about transportation in the Maryland General Assembly, with the latest sparring coming Tuesday between Republicans in the House of Delegates and the powerful Democrat who leads the Senate.

Following a news conference at which his transportation plan was criticized, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) lashed out at the House Republicans, calling them “total obstructionists” and “Neanderthals in terms of their thinking.”

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The GOP delegates summoned the media to complain that bills introduced by Miller would unnecessarily raise taxes and provide an inadequate “lock box” to ensure transportation funds are not spent on other programs.

Under one of Miller’s bills, lawmakers could not spend transportation funds on anything but transportation unless the governor declared a “fiscal emergency” and three-fifths of members in both chambers voted to transfer the money.

“We are always in a fiscal emergency,” said Del. Susan W. Krebs (R-Carroll), who has introduced a separate “lock box” proposal that she argues would be much tougher to pick. “The bill that the Senate president has introduced does not go far enough.”

Krebs’s bill would allow transportation funds to be used for “defense or relief purposes” only if “the state is invaded by land, sea or air” or “a major catastrophe occurs.”

Both the Miller and Krebs bills would require amending the state Constitution.

Miller told reporters that the House Republicans are making it more difficult for Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and lawmakers to coalesce around a plan to raise additional revenue for transportation projects.

He said some Republicans in his chamber are willing to support a reasonable plan, which he said isn’t the case in the House.

“Their job is to say ‘no’ to everything,” Miller said.

Later Tuesday, the House Republican leadership issued a statement saying members were “disappointed” in Miller’s comments.

“We simply disagree on a fundamental philosophical issue — that is hardly a reason to resort to name-calling,” said the statement by Minority Leader Anthony J. O’Donnell and Minority Whip Jeannie Haddaway-Riccio (R-Talbot).

 
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