Thursday, June 2, 2011

Tolls Go Through the Roof

(Baltimore) - Kind of knew this was coming, the Board Estimates has agreed to raise the toll fees around the state. If you've been driving for any period of time on the 95 corridor crossing the state line was a relief. The price for tolls from Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York could drain your wallet like a "SUV at a gas pump."

Was the rate hike justified? The legislature was unable to get a rise in the gas tax, which pretty much would have fixed this problem (transportation trust fund has been raided to many times to balance the budget - be prepared to see legislature once again try to pass a gas in the special session. Hmmmmm?)

So you can imagine my surprise when I get a press release from Sen. E.J Pipken on the issue.



JUNE 2, 2011

“The process by which the MdTA is making outrageous toll increases is tantamount to taxation without representation,” said Senator E.J. Pipkin (R. Upper Shore 36), a vocal opponent of the MdTA proposed toll increases. “It doesn’t matter if it is called a toll or a fee; whatever takes money out of the people’s pockets is a tax.”

Senator Pipkin said that today, as was anticipated, “the MdTA rubber-stamped the huge toll increases proposed by its Staff.”

The MdTA board members are not elected, but are appointed by the Governor and answer to the Governor. It’s an independent authority that has the power to operate with very little oversight from the General Assembly. The MdTA can raise tolls at will and without a vote of the Maryland Senate or House of Delegates.

Pipkin said he will re-introduce legislation in the 2012 session to require that the General Assembly approve any toll increases, in the same way the state’s legislative body approves tax increases. “The people’s representatives should stand and be counted on the question of toll increases in the same way it does on tax increases,” said Pipkin. “There needs to be checks and balances in this process.”

There will be nine public hearings later this month where the MdTA will pretend to listen to Maryland citizen’s concerns. “However,” said Pipkin, “When all is said and done, whatever the MdTA wants, the MdTA will get.

Pipkin said that although the current system is flawed, the best chance of fighting the increase is through public participation at the hearings and he urges the public to attend to stop the rate hike. He also suggests calling the Governor’s office at 410-974-3901 to oppose the rate increases from occurring.

The increases are expected to generate $210 million, which would be used not just to offset maintenance costs but to pay off the debts for building the ICC in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

Pipkin says the citizens of the rural areas of the state are paying a disproportionate portion of the toll increase. For example, the Bay Bridge proposed increase equates to an over 300 percent increase, while the Baltimore harbor crossings would see a doubling in tolls.

“This is just a continuation of Governor O’Malley’s War of Rural Maryland.”

So let me make sure I get this right. The rise in tolls is going to improve Maryland roads, really?

"I'm Shocked"

The email came as no surprise, here is the headline, "Join Senator Catherine Pugh for an important announcement about Baltimore’s future!"

I'm guessing the Senator from Baltimore can stop dodging questions about whether she is planning to run for Mayor of Baltimore. I kind of knew something was up, when Anthony McCarthy announced he was going to stop doing his talk show to run a Mayoral campaign.

I naturally assumed he was going to head up Councilman Carl Stokes run for Mayor (FYI, he hasn't announced), but no he was throwing his hat in with Senator Pugh.

By way of disclaimer I am a friend of Anthony McCarthy. We have talked politics for a longtime (I also urged him not to run for office after his last bid).
The field to become the next mayor of Baltimore will get a bit crowded on Monday.

I was one of the questioners at the last debate of the Baltimore Mayoral Debate at MPT. We had eight candidates on stage. I'm sorry this has become a joke. I'm all for people who want to seek office but there has to be process where there are fewer folks. The city has a budget of nearly $1.6 million. Sorry this is an adults job. The options for narrowing the field could include raising the fee to run ($7,000 to $10,000 sounds like a nice round number), force candidates to present signatures of 2000 registered voters along with the fee, and/or put in place an early runoff system where we get on the top to vote getter's on the ballot for party nominations.

I'm also reminded funding a campaign will get a lot of outside money. So who's in the race for now; Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Otis Rolley, Joseph T. "Jody" Landers III and Frank M. Conaway Sr. (remember Stokes has yet to announce his intentions).

On the Republican side there is Vicki Ann Harding.

Oh, this is going to be a race to watch.