A slice of surplus pie for transportation

Growing coffers: In flush times, Glendening has no reason to bypass road and transit needs.

October 17, 1999

THE GOOD financial news for Gov. Parris N. Glendening keeps getting better. He learned last month that Maryland's vibrant economy generated a $320 million state surplus in the past fiscal year. Last week, revenue experts predicted another $600 million in excess funds for the current fiscal year -- and a surplus for the year after that of nearly $400 million.

These are huge sums for a state Maryland's size. They give leaders a rare opportunity to patch up the state's infrastructure, add school and college buildings and make contributions in underfunded areas such as child care for low-income families and state parks.

But the governor still refuses to give the state's transportation department a permanent financial boost. Instead, he plans on a one-time revenue increase. That won't help pay for Maryland's long-range highway and mass transit needs.

Mr. Glendening should not leave this important funding question in the laps of future governors. Not when he is flush with cash. It's the right time to seek legislative approval to permanently dedicate a small portion of sales-tax revenue to the state DOT.

House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. favors that approach. Officials should have a high level of confidence that the recent spurts in income-tax and sales-tax collections are not flukes. Maryland can afford to dedicate a fraction of that money to road, bridge and rail transit improvements.

It would be a wise investment because Maryland must continue to enhance and expand its transportation systems if it wants to remain attractive to business.

Republicans are demanding more tax cuts. That's understandable, given the size of surplus estimates. But it's not the highest priority. Once the governor and General Assembly catch up on one-time construction needs, fill in gaps in social-service programs and take care of the state's long-range transportation objectives, they can accelerate planned income-tax cuts.

The continuing strength of Maryland's economy could make all these things possible.

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