Busch against funding plan for Intercounty Connector

December 12, 2003|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

House Speaker Michael E. Busch joined critics of the state's plans for funding the $1.7 billion Intercounty Connector last night, charging that the Ehrlich administration is planning to tie up too great a share of the state's transportation resources in one project.

Busch objected to the Transportation Department's plan to finance the Washington-area highway project largely with a form of bond backed by a pledge of future federal funds.

"You're leveraging all future federal dollars that are supposedly available for projects throughout the state," the Annapolis Democrat said. Without elaborating, he said there is a "political motivation" for the administration's determination to build the ICC with or without new revenue.

Busch is the highest-ranking lawmaker to question the administration's plan to pay for the ICC, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s top transportation priority. The road would connect Interstate 270 with Interstate 95 across Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

The financing plan outlined by Transportation Secretary Robert L. Flanagan would not commit all future federal funds to pay ICC bonds but would dedicate much of the anticipated increase in that revenue flow to that purpose.

Some legislators who otherwise support the ICC are worried that the reliance on the so-called GARVEE bonds - an acronym for "grant anticipation revenue vehicle" - will force a delay in their pet local projects.

This week, the General Assembly's top analyst questioned Flanagan's "conceptual" plan to issue 30-year GARVEE bonds - saying it could add more than $100 million to the cost of the project. Maryland would be the first state to issue such bonds for so long a term.

Flanagan has indicated that the state is exploring whether to lower the term of the bonds to 15 years, but that could drive up the cost of borrowing $1 billion by that method from $60 million a year to $100 million. Busch said the state should base more of the financing on traditional sources such as the gasoline tax.

State Sen. Patrick J. Hogan, a Montgomery County Democrat, said he supports Ehrlich's funding plan. "It's the best overall approach," the said.

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