Candidates united on more funds for transit


September 10, 2006|By Larry Carson

Advocating more government spending never seems an obstacle for some candidates during a political campaign, and Howard County's candidates for county executive are among that group.

At a forum last week held by Transportation Advocates, all four executive hopefuls called for more convenient and frequent stops for Howard Transit's bright green buses and better connections to mass transit in Baltimore and Washington. The buses are vital for workers, senior citizens and students unable to drive or who do not have cars.

"The problem has been inadequate funding," said Harry M. Dunbar, one of two Democrats running for the county's top job.

Republican candidate Christopher J. Merdon said he wants a 30-minute waiting time between buses instead of the current one hour, and Democrat Ken Ulman agreed that "frequency [of stops] is the No. 1 priority," noting that before state budget cuts, the wait was 45 minutes. Merdon also decried the age of Howard's buses, most of which are nearing the end of their seven-year lifespan.

Independent C. Stephen Wallis also wants an expansion of Howard's heavily subsidized bus system, though he acknowledged that dropping the wait time might cost the county up to $5 million a year, not counting the cost of new buses.

Ray Ambrose, administrator of the 27-bus system for Corridor Transportation, said the system would have to buy about 15 more buses, at $180,000 each, and see a doubling of the county's operating subsidy to more than $8 million a year to get the wait time down to 30 minutes.

Ulman repeatedly noted the withdrawal of some state and federal transit funding, including money for new vehicles, and he said the county has done its best to step in and save as much service as possible.

Merdon agreed that the county has done a good job of nurturing the bus system, and he said it is also "time we take a serious look at building some true mass transit in Howard County," though it might take 20 years to achieve.

County officials hope the Green Metro line from Washington will eventually extend to Laurel or Baltimore-Washington Thurgood Marshall International Airport, which could make a spur to Columbia more feasible.

Revenue authority

Three of the five nominees for Howard County's new revenue authority whose names were submitted at Tuesday night's County Council meeting have something in common.

Steve Alms, Edward L. Waddell and Irfan Malik were major donors to Democratic political campaigns this cycle. All three also gave lesser amounts to Republicans.

According to state campaign finance reports, Alms gave $1,000 to County Executive James N. Robey's state Senate campaign in March and to $1,000 to House of Delegates candidate Guy Guzzone's committee in July last year. Alms gave $150 to county executive hopeful Merdon's campaign a year ago and $1,000 each to Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. in 2004 and Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley in 2003.

Waddell gave $1,000 each this year to the Robey campaign and to Ulman's county executive effort, but he also gave $75 to Republican Del. Warren E. Miller last year.

Last month, Malik gave $1,000 each to Ulman and Courtney Watson, a Democrat running for County Council in District 1, and $500 to Republican state Sen. Allan H. Kittleman last year.

The other two nominees are Debora Plunkett and Michael J. Jack.

Herman Charity, the Robey administration official in charge of finding volunteers for nonpaying boards and commissions, said they all inquired about serving after reading about the creation of the new entity in news accounts and advertisements.

Charity said he never considers political donations in recommending volunteers for county boards and commissions.

"I never check to see" if they've donated, he said.

"We looked at people active in the community and who expressed an interest," Charity said. Campaign donations "have never been a part of my criteria for picking people," he said.

Merdon was skeptical.

"The timing of the contributions and their appointments to the board seems to be more than coincidental. I hope that's not the case," he said.

Political Santa

With no primary election opponent and a lightly funded novice Democrat in teacher Rich Corkran to face in November, Republican Kittleman has become the political Santa Claus for the Howard County GOP.

According to state campaign finance reports, more than half the $95,111 the state senator has spent this election cycle has gone to other Republicans through several committees - a total of $51,739.

That does not include the $10,000 bill for a recent telephone poll that stirred animosity between Republicans in the District 5 County Council primary. That fee was split between Kittleman and Miller, though Miller's campaign received $5,000 from Kittleman's campaign Aug. 26, two days before Miller said the bill for the poll arrived.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.