Gov. Larry Hogan’s top priority for Maryland’s upcoming legislative session will be to repeal a law that requires officials to rate and rank proposed transportation projects to determine which should get funding priority.
The measure became law this year after Democratic lawmakers overrode a veto by Hogan (R), who said the scoring system favors projects in urban areas over those in more rural jurisdictions.
“It will wreak havoc on the entire state transportation system,” the governor said at a news conference Wednesday.
To emphasize his point, Hogan displayed poster boards with dozens of proposed road projects that he said would not receive funding under the rating program.
The governor’s emergency repeal proposal means the fight over the transportation law will extend into the 2017 legislative session, which could also feature battles over paid sick leave, education spending and whether to ban the gas-drilling method known as fracking.
The legislature, where Democrats hold large majorities in both chambers, approved the transportation-scoring bill after Hogan rejected a $3 billion light-rail project for Baltimore and pumped additional money into roads projects.
Supporters say the measure ensures fiscal accountability while giving the administration flexibility to choose lower-scoring projects over those that rank higher if it provides written justification for such decisions.
“The people of Maryland want a transparent government where they understand how politicians are spending their money,” House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said in a statement. “The law requires the governor to simply explain his spending decisions, not hide behind them.”
The administration contends that it cannot deviate from the scoring system, despite language in the legislation that says “nothing in this act may be construed to prohibit or prevent the funding of the capital priorities in each jurisdiction.”
Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said other parts of the bill required strict adherence to the rankings, describing the legislation as “a poorly written law that contradicts itself.”
The state began implementing the legislation this summer, telling local officials to provide detailed analyses of funding requests or risk earning scores of zero. Some officials called the process burdensome and said their plans ranked too low to receive funding.
The governor said Wednesday that, under the law, only seven out of the 73 top priorities for local jurisdictions would receive state money. Hogan said the transportation bill was written “in secret. . . . Most legislators had no idea what they were voting on, or why.”
Although the governor accused the legislature of failing to hold hearings on the bill, aides later clarified that hearings took place, but not for the final version of the legislation.
Del. Pamela G. Beidle (D-Anne Arundel), who chairs the House Environment and Transportation Committee and sponsored the bill, said she tried to work with transportation officials on drafting the measure.
“I thought it would be a good idea to have more transparency and accountability,” she said. “I think possibly the governor’s using the transportation bill as a scapegoat for promising to fund too many projects.”
Legislative analysts said in November that the administration’s proposed six-year transportation plan exceeds available funding by more than $1.6 billion, in part due to revenue being lower than anticipated when the plan was drafted.
Mayer noted that the governor opposed the scoring legislation long before that assessment was released.
Supporters of the ranking process say the administration has tried to stir up controversy by implementing the law too soon and creating a system that is more restrictive than the legislation prescribed.
Last week, a legislative committee in charge of reviewing new regulations placed a hold on the government’s scoring guidelines, which are slated to take effect on Feb. 10 unless the panel votes to oppose them.
Last month, the committee asked the administration to examine whether the law would allow for a system similar to what exists in Virginia, where transportation needs are weighted differently in different parts of the state. Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn has said that the existing legislation would not allow such changes.
Beidle said the governor’s repeal bill will have little chance of passing next year. “We had enough votes to override his veto, so I assume there are not enough votes to repeal it,” she said. “If the bill was to replace the scoring process with other regulations, I think that would be acceptable.”
The legislative session begins Jan. 11.