This week Gov. Martin O'Malley said the state is "out of options" regarding much-needed transportation upgrades. I disagree. The Governor squandered an opportunity to name a new secretary to the state Department of Transportation before the start of the General Assembly session. The department is in limbo since the departure of former secretary Beverly Swaim-Staley six months ago, on July 1.
For six months, there has been a leadership vacuum in addressing massive structural problems with the transportation grid itself and the financing mechanisms needed to pay for it. Addressing transportation challenges is a key priority of this general assembly session, yet the governor inexplicably dithers on naming a cabinet secretary and defaults to raising gas taxes as a panacea.
Since O'Malley became Governor in 2007, nearly $700 million has been diverted from local transportation projects and has not yet been repaid. Chronic siphoning of such funds and the lack of a consensus on how to protect the transportation trust fund have caused O'Malley's gas tax increase and other revenue proposals to stall. Moreover, Governor O'Malley has raised taxes and fees 24 times, removing an additional $2.4 billion out of the economy annually.
There should be no surprise that there is no political will to raise fuel levies. It's the governor himself who has created a situation where there are 'no options' on addressing our transportation woes. He's raised too many taxes and fees already, refuses to offer solutions for protecting transportation monies from fund raids and won't pay back local governments for the infrastructure projects that was instead used for his favored programs.
Since a major reorganization in 1970, MDOT has never been without an official secretary for this long. MDOT is a massive organization with a $3.7 billion annual budget and 8700 employees. Even without these transportation problems, this agency is far too big to go this long without leadership.
There have been two special sessions last year in which the Senate could have confirmed a secretary. At the very least, the senate could have been - and should be - holding confirmation hearings at the start of the session this week for a new secretary. Meanwhile priorities such as protecting the transportation trust fund, restoring local transportation funds,replacing aging roads and bridges, and financing mass transit expansions in Baltimore and suburban Washington are languishing.
As a former Appointments Secretary for previous Governor Robert L. Ehrlich, I was responsible for placing senior administration officials in departments and agencies and leading the executive branch's senate confirmation process for cabinet secretaries. I know how important it is to have the right people in the right job at the right time.
Legislative analysts say the state is about $2 billion short of the money it needs to undertake projects currently approved. Some analysts project that Maryland will have no funds for new transportation projects beyond maintenance by 2018.
It's time for the Governor to lead on this issue instead of offering re-tread proposals like raising the gasoline tax that have no political support.
Larry Hogan is the Chairman of Change Maryland, a non-partisan, grassroots organization whose mission is to instill fiscal responsibility in state government. Change Maryland has 25,000 followers.