By Adam Pagnucco.
Everyone knows that elected officials sometimes disagree on issues. They may have differences of philosophy or values. They may emphasize different sets of conflicting data. They may prioritize one thing over another. But how many of them actually make stuff up and use that as a basis for policy arguments?
One does. His name is Larry Hogan.
The Governor’s target is a law passed by the General Assembly over his veto known as the Maryland Open Transportation Investment Decision Act of 2016. The law was intended to open up the opaque process used by the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) to decide which transportation projects to fund in the state’s capital budget. The law requires MDOT to use a scoring procedure to evaluate future proposed major projects using measurements of safety and security, system preservation, quality of service, environmental stewardship, community vitality, economic prosperity, equitable access, cost effectiveness and local jurisdiction priorities. The score of each project included in MDOT’s capital budget would be released publicly. But the law makes clear that the scores themselves would not determine a project’s fate. MDOT would have the final say over which ones get funded. The law says explicitly that “the Department may include in the Consolidated Transportation Program a major capital transportation project with a lower score over a major capital transportation project with a higher score if it provides in writing a rational basis for the decision.” The law also says, “Nothing in this Act may be construed to prohibit or prevent the funding of the capital transportation priorities in each jurisdiction.”
Sounds harmless, yeah? Not to Governor Hogan. He is calling the law “the Road Kill Bill” and has released a huge list of transportation projects it would allegedly cancel. The Governor said in a public statement that the law was a “disastrous bill which will absolutely be responsible for the elimination of nearly all of the most important transportation priorities in every single jurisdiction all across the state… It will wreak havoc on the entire state transportation system and usurp important authority away from local governments and away from the executive branch of state government, giving authority instead to lobbyists and special interest groups.” He has launched a fierce social media campaign to repeal it.
And yet the plain language of the law itself would not kill any transportation projects. Not a single one.
Think that’s bad enough? It’s even worse. One of the projects the Governor says the law would kill is the Watkins Mill/I-270 interchange in Gaithersburg. This is a top priority for MoCo’s state legislators and was a significant reason for their support of a 2013 transportation funding increase. And yet the Hogan administration indefinitely postponed it and later mulled cutting exit ramps to save money. Only after the MoCo delegation introduced legislation to mandate funding the project did MDOT relent and reluctantly put it back on track. And now the Governor is falsely blaming the transportation scoring law for killing a project that his own administration tried to kill!
Folks, what we have here is not a failure to communicate. It is a failure to live in reality. The Governor’s attacks on this law are contradicted by the plain language of the law itself. It does not kill ANY projects. In fact, it explicitly preserves MDOT’s ability to decide which projects get funded. This dispute is not about killing projects at all. What it’s really about is that the Governor can’t stand any law that subjects his decisions to public scrutiny. And this concept is so alien to him that he is willing to make false statements in public about what the law actually does. This is not a matter of right vs left or Democrats vs Republicans. It’s a matter of making stuff up to justify what you want.
Now what other soon-to-be GOP officeholder does this remind you of?