Pat Murray of the Maryland Democratic Party: A Call for Transparency in Transportation Spending

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Ever wonder how the Hogan administration makes decisions about transportation projects? To hear Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn tell it, the process would leave the late, great Stuart Scott reeling.

Secretary Rahn was asked this simple question: “How does the Department prioritize the projects that are submitted by the counties?”

His answer was stunning.

First he said it is “not done through a computer program.” Then he said it is done “through a process that I wouldn’t necessarily call art.” Then he landed on this gem: “Putting this together is like watching a football game, and a soccer game, and a lacrosse game, and a basketball game, and they’re all on the same field, and they’re all playing their game at the same time.”

That was the best the Secretary could offer to explain a six year, $16 billion plan for roads and bridges, the port, the airport, and mass transit.

And that’s why there needs to be more sunlight in the Hogan administration.

A lot more sunlight.

Maryland has the nation’s worst transportation problem. Our highways become parking lots at rush hour. Our mass transit system is inadequate to attract millennials and 21st century investment. Our infrastructure is crumbling. Nearly 20% of our bridges are functionally obsolete, creating a threat to drivers – including the woman whose car was hit by concrete falling from bridge above I-495 last year.

A step towards fixing that problem is to take politics out of the process, and General Assembly Democrats are fighting for two bills to do just that.

The first would take politics out of funding decisions by creating an objective process to review and score projects based on their anticipated benefits. It would require any governor to explain to the public a decision to fund a lower scoring project ahead of a higher scoring one. A similar measure was enacted in Virginia with strong bipartisan support.

The second would strengthen accountability in mass transit by creating a citizen advisory board to oversee the Maryland Transit Administration. Despite being the nation’s 13th largest transit system, MTA does not report on performance and reliability or engage in long-term planning.

Governor Hogan championed open government last week, saying “citizens deserve accountability and transparency from their elected leaders.” Under this guiding principle, General Assembly Republicans should have embraced these bills. They did not, and their passionate opposition begs the question: Are they worried sunlight will expose wrongdoing by the Hogan administration, or are they simply pursuing a narrow, Mitch McConnell-esque obstructionist agenda? Either way, they are defending an indefensible status quo.

A six year, $16 billion spending plan deserves public scrutiny. Public investments should do the greatest good for the most people, and data-driven decisions should trump politics. And, with due respect to Maryland Republicans, the public should never be asked to accept a tortured sports metaphor in place of accountability and transparency in government.

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