Six of the candidates from both parties running for governor repeated their usual positions on jobs, the economy and health care during a forum at the Maryland Municipal League’s annual convention in Ocean City. And then they all said something that all of them agreed on.
They would restore Highway User Revenues—the money that comes from the state to maintain and repair local roads—as governor.
Harford County Executive David Craig, running for the Republican nomination, told the crowd he would restore the funding during his first year as governor and then some.
“And, starting the second year, we will give you back the money we took from you those four years for capital projects,” Craig said.
The restoration of Highway User Revenues had been the number one concern of municipal leaders for several years, ever since they were slashed to make up for budget shortfalls elsewhere.
The money comes from the gas tax and is distributed to local governments through a formula based on the number of road miles in a jurisdiction.
Rock Hall Mayor Bob Willis said with budget cuts, municipalities as a whole have been receiving only a small portion of what they had been getting.
“We were receiving in the neighborhood of around, I’m going to say, $160,000. Today, we receive, probably around $20,000,” he said.
The town fathers in Havre de Grace had to raise taxes to make up for the $500,000 they lost. That accounts for all of their street maintenance money.
“We actually had to raise our property tax rate 10 cents that year,” said City Councilman Fred Cullum. “And we were fortunate that over a period of time we have now been able to give that 10 cents back plus two additional cents we lowered.”
The question about state road money was the first one asked by WYPR’s Sheilah Kast, the forum’s moderator.
“How would you, if elected governor, propose to support local government transportation infrastructure in the future?”
Attorney General Doug Gansler, running for the Democratic nomination, said he would increase highway user revenues by increasing the number of jobs in Maryland.
The others said they would restore the formula that had been used prior to the 2008 recession rather than handing out one-time grants as was used in next year’s budget.
Delegate Heather Mizeur, also running for the Democratic nomination, could not make the forum because of a scheduling conflict.
La Plata Town Councilman Keith Back was glad to hear the money would be restored, but he wanted details.
“Everyone says ‘they will restore it’ because that’s the thing to say to this group. I want to see the concrete answers of how they would do it,” Back said.
Some were looking for more specifics on issues in general.
“While they talked about retaining businesses, lowering taxes, improving other aspects of the quality of life in Maryland, they really didn’t address specific or give specific answers to some of the questions,” said Hampstead Town Councilwoman Marlene Duff.
Bowie City Councilman Dennis Brady said the candidates were hampered by time constraints.
“They attempted to address the question, I’m not certain they all succeeded in fully satisfying the audience,” Brady said.