Feel-good promises on transportation Unrealistic: Glendening and Sauerbrey play politics, avoid saying how they will pay for roads, transit.

October 04, 1998

BOTH Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Ellen R. Sauerbrey are proving adept at giving voters the impression they can receive more services at no extra cost. A prime example is transportation, which both say they will improve, but in vastly different ways. Neither candidate, though, dares to say how he or she would pay for these projects.

An unmentioned reality: The state's transportation trust fund is running out of money to pay for new roads, bridges, mass transit and airport and port projects. Its revenue comes primarily from vehicle title fees and gasoline taxes, which are not rising fast enough to keep pace with construction and operating expenses. A funding solution is essential.

Governor Glendening has avoided that discussion for four years. Yet he has rolled out a package of road- and subway-building initiatives that would cost billions of dollars.

Meanwhile, Ms. Sauerbrey has suggested a way to free up large sums for road construction -- shift the mass transit agency out of the transportation budget and into the general fund budget.

This solves nothing. Instead, it creates a new problem. Yes, it would free $200 million a year for roads, but it would add $200 million to Maryland's general budget, paid largely by sales and income taxes. Such a move would make it far more difficult for Ms. Sauerbrey to achieve her prime objective -- cutting taxes.

Neither candidate wants to tell voters the unpleasant truth: Ways must be found to pay for popular and necessary transportation projects. Road improvements to ease gridlock are expensive. Buses for suburb-to-suburb routes come at a price. It costs huge sums to expand light rail and subway routes in the Baltimore-Washington region or build a roadway linking the two.

Maryland depends mightily on its fine roads and mass transit. Let's hear how the two candidates for governor intend to keep this transportation network first rate.

Pub Date: 10/04/98

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