ANNAPOLIS – The Ehrlich administration’s Transportation Task Force Tuesday unveiled its funding recommendations for construction of the $1.7 billion Inter-county Connector, favoring a combination of bonds backed by future federal funding and projected revenue sources and rejecting a gas-tax increase.
The panel’s recommendations were presented during a joint session of the House’s Appropriations and Ways and Means committees.
Among the panel’s findings was a vote of support for the Department of Transportation’s recommendation to increase the six-year capital program by $4.7 billion. The group’s summary said that funding would address two-thirds of the needs during the program period.
But the plan to fund the ICC took center stage among legislators, many representing districts close to the highway’s proposed route through Montgomery and Prince George’s counties to join Interstates 270 and 95.
Delegate Peter Franchot, D-Montgomery, chairman of the Subcommittee for Transportation and the Environment, called himself “the tip of the iceberg,” of a group of lawmakers who won’t support the administration’s favored bonding method unless a gas tax increase is approved for the state’s transportation program.
The Ehrlich administration has proposed using Grant Anticipation Revenue Vehicle, or GARVEE, bonds to fund from 53 to 59 percent of ICC construction. GARVEE bonds are issued by states and secured by future federal highway and transit funds, according to the Maryland Department of Legislative Services.
The task force recommended using $600 million in Maryland Transportation Authority GARVEE bonds; $450 million from MdTA bonds, derived from seven existing toll facilities; $500 million from MdTA bonds supported by future ICC toll revenue, and $150 million from the Transportation Trust Fund for the ICC.
“The governor has said that he is disinclined to support a gas tax but he is looking at other potential user fees that will be guaranteed for transportation programs (and) projects in every corner of the state,” said Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan, at the joint committee hearing.
Flanagan appointed the 29-member task force in July to review the state’s transportation priorities. It includes senators, delegates and public and private representatives, as well as Flanagan.
Taking money from the Transportation Trust Fund has become a contentious issue. Last year, Gov. Robert Ehrlich tapped the fund for $300 million to balance the state’s budget. This year, he pledged $25 million from the fiscal 2005 budget as a down payment on that borrowing.
The Task Force agreed with the governor’s incremental approach to reimbursing the trust fund, saying immediate repayment is unfeasible. And the panel rejected trust fund protection legislation introduced this session that would prevent it from being tapped again except in emergencies.
The task force supported a proposal to impose a $20 surcharge on the roughly 1 million moving violations in the state each year.
That $20 million in annual revenue, the group said, would complete reimbursement of the trust fund in 10 years.
Some legislators said they were concerned about the amount of funding going into one project in Maryland.
Flanagan said the ICC is only part of the governor’s strategy on solving Maryland’s transportation needs, but he said Ehrlich will address legislator’s worries.
Lawmakers, the secretary said, haven’t yet grasped the full transportation “vision,” and added: “I think time will solve that problem. To the extent of the legislators simply producing political noise, that problem is not going to go away.”
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