Hogan Vetoes Transportation Scoring System Bill

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan quickly vetoed a measure that creates a scoring system to prioritize Maryland transportation projects on Friday, calling it "the worst kind of policy making."

House Speaker Michael Busch, D-Anne Arundel, said he thought the governor should have embraced a bill that Busch said would increase transparency in how the state makes decisions about transportation funding.

The veto came the morning after the Democrat-controlled legislature passed the bill to meet a deadline requiring the governor to either sign or veto the measure while the General Assembly is still in session. That way, lawmakers can try to override the veto before they adjourn April 11. Both houses would need a three-fifths vote to override the veto, or 85 votes in the House and 29 in the Senate. The House has 91 Democrats, while the Senate has 33.

In his veto letter, the Republican governor wrote that the bill represents the start of a fundamental shift in how transportation decisions are made.

"In the context of numerous bills considered this session to erode the long-established powers of Maryland's Executive Branch, House Bill 1013 infringes upon the Maryland Department of Transportation authority for identifying priorities in local jurisdictions throughout the State," Hogan wrote.

The bill would create a new process to rank transportation projects based on their anticipated benefits. It creates nine goals the state would use to rank projects. The transportation department would decide what weight to put on criteria in the scoring system. While the measure wouldn't prevent the governor from financing high-scoring projects, it would require an explanation for not following the scoring system.

"I think that when you're spending $12 billion worth of taxpayers' dollars on road projects, that people have to know where it's being spent and how it's being spent," Busch said.

The speaker declined to say when an override vote would take place, noting that lawmakers have until April 11 and want to see what other measures Hogan may veto.

Republicans say the measure would erode local input and steer more transportation money to highly populated parts of the state at the expense of rural areas. The governor and Democratic lawmakers have struggled over transportation policy after Hogan decided last year not to move forward with a light rail plan in Baltimore, citing costs and flawed design as reasons.

"The obvious intent of the legislation is to severely limit the decision making of local governments to strip the executive branch of its authority over transportation decisions and to create new mechanisms to divert taxpayer dollars away from highway infrastructure," Hogan wrote in his veto letter.

The speaker said the governor's decisions on transportation projects last year prompted the legislation.

"I think the initiative for this came when the governor waited until the end of session was out last year _ without any legislative oversight _ and started to go around and name projects without any real justification and removing projects without any real justification," Busch said.

The governor noted in his veto letter that he has worked to take a balanced approach that includes a mix of major highway projects, as well as support for the Purple Line, a light rail project in Montgomery and Prince George's counties. However, he said the bill seeks to reshape the state's decision-making process on transportation and "potentially puts at risk major road, bridge and transit investments" throughout the state.

"This regrettable legislation exemplifies the worst kind of policy making and it is not in the best interest of Maryland taxpayers," Hogan wrote.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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