Lawmakers from Montgomery County, where congested roads have become a major source of constituent complaints in recent years, tonight sharply criticized plans to use transportation funds to give savings and loan depositors access to frozen funds.
In a meeting with Maryland Transportation Secretary William K. Hellmann, who said it was he who proposed the $100 million transfer from the Transportation Trust Fund, an overflow crowd of Montgomery officials, business leaders and citizens decried the plan as a threat to their efforts to improve conditions on their overcrowded roads.
Hellmann, accompanied by aides and an array of documents, just as strongly insisted that the proposal would have "minimal" impact on the planned road projects.
"Montgomery County has always stood as the cornerstone of the whole economic development program in the state, and our roads are the cornerstone of economic development," said County Council Chairman William Hanna. "We're at the time of our greatest boom and our greatest congestion, and to take funds away now is a mistake."
Hellmann countered by saying that his and Gov. Harry Hughes' support for the transfer is conditional on enactment of a bill to require repayment by 1990. He added that the state is using no new funds to effect the transfer, but rather surplus investment income from a fund held in reserve to pay off an eight-year-old bond issue.
Though he acknowledged that the fund would lose about $20 million in interest income as a result of the transfer, he said the loss would be over six to eight years and is insignificant when compared with the overall $1.8 billion fund.
Finally, he said, "The plain and simple fact is, we couldn't get these projects out the door any faster if we had the money" because the Transportation Department lacks adequate staff.
The $100 million transfer is a key component of Hughes' proposal to give depositors at Old Court Savings & Loan of Baltimore access to funds that have been frozen there since May. The money would allow the state to make two quarterly payments to depositors and would allow as many as 20,000 to recover all their funds.
Montgomery state Sen. Laurence Levitan, chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, said the legislature has no role in the decision to transfer the money except to pass legislation requiring payback. The purpose of last night's meeting, he said is to "vent frustration."
"Everybody's running for office and you hear about Prince George's and Baltimore City bringing home more funds and it makes Montgomery look bad. Maybe if we squawk loud enough we can get some other things."