AMONG THE biggest obstacles to what should be a basic state government responsibility — providing adequate funding for a modern network of roads, rails, bridges and tunnels — has been the argument that officials cannot be trusted to use transportation money for its earmarked purpose. Republicans, in particular, like to cite raids on transportation funds — such as those many states conducted during the recession, when budgets were tight — as an excuse for refusing to raise new revenue for roads and rails.
One way to defuse such arguments is by installing a so-called lockbox in state budgets, ensuring that money raised for transportation, such as from a gas tax, is spent on transportation. In Maryland, voters can address this problem by voting for the proposed constitutional amendment in Ballot Question 1. The amendment would establish just such a lockbox on the state’s Transportation Trust Fund — and it would also furnish the governor and state lawmakers with a key to open it in case of dire circumstances. We support the amendment as a sensible way to detoxify what has become a perennial, venomous debate in Annapolis.
The amendment would require that money raised for transportation be spent on transportation unless the governor formally declares a fiscal emergency and each house of the General Assembly, by a three-fifths vote, signs off on diverting funds. The likely result is that the money stays put, with an assurance of accountability if officials decide to raid it. That’s good policy, and it should deprive obstructionists of a pretext for opposing infrastructure funding.
In Prince George’s County, a key ballot question is whether to extend the current two-term (eight-year) limit for the county executive and members of the County Council to three terms, or 12 years. We think that’s sensible, too, and we urge voters to cast a “yes” vote to Question J.
The two-term maximum, imposed in 1992 and twice upheld by voters since then, is the only such limit that applies to local elected officials in the region. As a practical matter in Prince George’s, where incumbents have almost always won reelection, it has been useful as a means to ensure infusions of new blood.
But the county has changed, and its rules should evolve, too. Better candidates have run for the County Council in recent years, and there are signs that voters have set higher standards. This year, a notoriously unethical clerk of the court, Marilynn Bland, was thrown out of office by voters in the Democratic primary. That’s the right way to set limits on elected officials.
The new limit would apply to members of the current council as well as the current county executive, Rushern Baker. Mr. Baker, now cruising to reelection to a second term, would be eligible to run for a third term in 2018 if voters approve Question J.
As it happens, the current council has a number of capable and even exceptional members, and Mr. Baker has so far been an excellent executive. The council members and Mr. Baker have been understandably reluctant to publicly push a measure from which they would benefit directly.
But the truth is that elected officials often become more effective as they gain experience. Forcing one and all to depart after eight years does not serve the county’s interests. County voters, more engaged than in the past, will still be free to throw out scoundrels and loafers. They should also be able to reelect officials who are deserving.
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