WASHINGTON – The Senate Thursday approved $4 million for the Baltimore Red Line Light Rail that will connect East and West Baltimore as part of the Housing and Urban Development Appropriations bill.
That’s just a drop in the bucket for the Red Line’s $1.6 billion budget. Most of its federal funding is expected to be carved out of the upcoming Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2009.
To assure that the Red Line, and other transportation projects, get their funding, the Maryland Transit Administration relies on communication with the state’s congressional delegation, said Jo Greene, communications director for the Maryland Transit Administration.
But according to a new report from a nonprofit watchdog organization, governments are increasingly relying on lobbyists to assure their voices are heard.
Public records provided by the Center for Public Integrity show cities, universities and other government bodies across Maryland spent more than $500,000 on lobbyists this year with at least a portion of that going toward transportation.
Special interests from Maryland including concrete, asphalt and various transportation organizations spent nearly three times that amount, more than $1.5 million, during the same time period. Again, only a portion of the total went toward transportation lobbying.
Even though local governments such as Laurel and Rockville can meet with their congressional representatives to ask for funds, both decided to hire outside representatives as well.
“Lobbyists help shepherd the bill through the committee process if our representative is not on a particular committee,” said Mary Lou Berg, Rockville’s communications director, “and to help write different requests that will help us receive the funding.”
Rockville paid Holland & Knight $20,000 the first half of the year but could not say how much of that went towards transportation lobbying according to Berg.
One problem with this process is the lack of a nationwide transportation policy to decide which projects are needed, said the Center for Public Integrity. Without a distinct strategy, the process can turn into a legislative free-for-all. Also, with many parties pitching their necessary projects there is a greater risk of unnecessary ones slipping into the bill.
The $286 billion transportation bill that passed in 2005, a product of the same process, funded useful, high priority projects, but also several wasteful ones including the infamous $223 million “bridge to nowhere” in Alaska.