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September 22, 2014

A Lockbox with a Loop-Hole Key

Jill King

This November we are faced with two referendum questions that haven't gotten the attention they deserve. The first question deals with the transportation trust fund and may be a little confusing; the second is a no brainer, asking if we should be able to hold a special election to fill a county executive seat by special election, if the post is abandoned.


With Maryland having a history of raiding the transportation trust fund – the depository of gas taxes, the legislature voted to send a Maryland Constitutional Amendment to the people to protect these funds, for the most part. Although it is not a complete fix, it is a step forward in making gas taxes go toward that which they are intended.


According to Del. Kelly Schulz (R. 4th): "It will be somewhat of a lockbox on the transportation trust fund, which conservatives have asked for a long time. The governor will not be able to take money from the Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) and put it in the general budget. However, the governor can use it for emergency purposes (not clearly defined) with 2/3 approval from the legislature; Thus, a band-aid on a large wound."


Sen. David Brinkley (R. 4th) adds: "It's ‘half a loaf’ instead of the complete lockbox. It was added as part of last year's gas tax increase. I will be voting YES on the lockbox provision even though I voted AGAINST the gas tax increase."


Since the newly approved gas taxes, also known as the "Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act of 2013" (or HB1515) will play a huge part in this referendum, it is important to understand the impact that this bill will have on those purchasing gas in Maryland.


This bill increases the gas tax two times a year, skipping the mid-year increase ahead of this November’s election.


It is linked to the Consumer Price Index with a historical rate increase of 2% per year.


Gas taxes will be impacted by federal legislation on Internet taxes, with an additional increase of 4-5% if there isn't any Internet tax.


Most revenue from this goes to infrastructure of mass transit, including metro services in three counties and Baltimore City.


HB0784 was introduced in the House of Delegates to allow Mass Transit to raise fares to self-fund their usage, instead of using monies from the motoring public. It didn't make it past the first reading.


The Maryland gas tax when this bill passed was $.235 on a gallon; it will increase to approximately $.704 by July 2016.


Frederick County had two legislators (both Democrats) vote for the increase of funds, Sen. Ron Young (3rd) and Del. Galen Clagett (3-A).


The referendum reads as followed:


(Amending Article III by adding Section 53 to the Maryland Constitution):


Limits the use of Transportation Trust Funds to the payment of principal and interest on transportation bonds and for constructing and maintaining an adequate highway system or any other transportation-related purpose. Also prohibits the transfer of Transportation Trust Funds into the General Fund or a special fund of the State, except for: (1) an allocation or use of highway user revenues for local governments or (2) a transfer of funds to the Maryland Transportation Authority or the Maryland Transportation Authority Fund. Transportation Trust Funds may be used for non-transportation related purposes or transferred to the general fund or a special fund only if the Governor declares a fiscal emergency and the General Assembly approves legislation, by a three-fifths vote of both houses, concurring with the use or transfer of the funds.


Frederick County’s conservative candidates agree that voting yes on this amendment to our state Constitution will benefit future measures, although it is not a fix all.


With gas prices rising and the economy still not fully recovered from the 2008 recession, the gas tax will hurt most persons in Frederick County, including gas station owners, including those who own franchises like Joe Parsley of Frederick Shell who has fought this every step of the way. It will also potentially raise the costs for local cab services and bus services in the county. If it doesn't raise transportation costs, the money will have to be found through taxation or decreases in other services to pay for bus services.


Less disposable income will lead to less money to spend in local businesses. State Democrats never thought about the fallout, or how much this will actually hurt their constituents.


Commuters are going to have to weigh the costs to see if taking a pay decrease to work locally would benefit them;, but; then again; we need to bring jobs here with comparable skill sets. In other words, we will have to find ways around clogging highways for morning commutes or bring the federal government to Frederick. Yeah, the latter ain't gonna happen.


One solution that may work for all of us is to vote out the people who voted to send monies to larger voting bloc counties and start anew. This is why we don't see the road improvements here that we so much need.


For District 3A, the conservative candidates for House of Delegates are Vickie Wilkens and Paul Smith. If you reside in 3B, Bill Folden shares a conservative philosophy.


Corey Stottlemyer has challenged Senator Young for the seat in District 3 and will vote in favor of his Frederick constituents, not for raising taxes and fees on an already impaired economy and business climate.


retraining my brain for the future, conferring with the past...


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