If you squander resources on misplaced priorities, you eventually have to deal with the consequences. That's what's happening now in Maryland and Virginia. These two triple-A rated states are in panic mode because they are quickly running out of money for transportation. As Examiner reporters Rachel Baye and Steve Contorno reported Sunday, Maryland expects to run out of money -- even for basic road maintenance -- by 2018. By 2017, Virginia will have enough for maintenance but not enough to fund any new projects.
Hand-wringing politicians in both states insist the only way out is to raise taxes, preferably on gasoline, even though that would put a major drag on state economies already facing looming sequestration cuts. But they're not addressing the source of the problem. Both states consider transportation a lower priority than education, human services or public safety, even though it is critical to the functioning of all three.
In Maryland, 14.3 percent of the 2002 state budget ($21.2 billion total) was devoted to transportation. Ten years later, the budget had increased to $34.1 billion, but transportation's share had decreased to 10.1 percent. Just keeping it at the same percentage over the past decade would have meant an additional $10 billion, which could have paid for the Purple Line, the Red Line in Baltimore and the Corridor Cities Transitway in Montgomery County, with no new taxes and more than $5 billion left over for roads and bridges.
Virginia has a less acute problem, but its woes with transportation are longstanding. It has consistently dedicated about 14.5 percent of the state budget to transportation during the last decade, which has never been enough. The state has a million new residents, putting increased pressure on the commonwealth's inadequate and rapidly aging highway system. Had the state kept control of the Dulles Toll Road and its revenue stream, it would be in a much better position today.
Although the vast majority of residents in both states use roads on a daily basis, both Maryland and Virginia have allowed their highway systems to deteriorate in favor of other priorities. It is foolhardy to reward this misallocation of funds with more revenue until state lawmakers put a halt to the growth of spending in other areas and give transportation a chance to catch up to where it should be.