Unsold cars jam ports around the world. Photo original source unknown.

Maryland state lawmakers re-added a $10 million tax break for car purchases at the final stage of their budget negotiations. Legislators had previously decided to remove the credit to help shore up Maryland’s finances until Senator Barbara Mikulski pushed to reinstate it. Mikulski inserted a similar provision into the federal stimulus bill earlier this year.

What could Maryland do with $10 million besides further incentivize people to buy new cars that most of them don’t need? With just half that money, they could restore transit cuts in the Washington region and Baltimore. Those cuts threaten to cut off vital service to many residents who don’t have alternatives, or will drive many Marylanders to commute by car instead of transit, increasing traffic, pollution and parking problems. DC and most Virginia jurisdictions came up with extra money to stave off most of their proposed cuts to Metro service, but Maryland remains $4.8 million behind. The other half of the $10 million could restore previous cuts or improve service in Baltimore.

Instead of preserving this vital transportation choice, Mikulski is intent on propping up an auto industry that has quite simply overproduced cars for the current economy. Americans would do just fine simply keeping their current cars a little longer. Meanwhile, cutting transit service not only destroys jobs, but harms many residents’ ability to get to their jobs.

Tonight, Metro will hold the first two of their six hearings on service cuts, in Hyattsville and Vienna. Transit First! is continuing to call on area jurisdictions, especially Maryland, to avoid service cuts. They held a press event this morning at Prince George’s Plaza Metro with County Councilmember Eric Olson and PG ACT’s Karren Pope-Onwukwe to highlight the impact of the cuts, which hit Prince George’s hardest.

Mikulski made an early name for herself in politics by opposing freeways that would have cut through Baltimore and destroyed historic neighborhoods. Sadly, like many freeway warriors of her era, she doesn’t realize that the ever-expanding freeways outside Baltimore hurt that city’s vitality almost as much as bulldozing a neighborhood, by driving development ever outward and removing jobs from downtown. Nor does she see how other governmental policies, like tax subsidies for car ownership, put cities at a disadvantage by drawing potential riders away from transit and forcing even more service cuts.

The Baltimore-Washington area is one of our nation’s greatest metropolitan regions, including some of the best transit systems in the nation and a wide range of walkable, transit-oriented communities in and around two major cities. It’s too bad Maryland’s senior Senator seems intent on dismantling her state’s existing advantages through her policy priorities. Her legacy may well be to bring about the very same form of destruction to Maryland’s communities she fought to stop a generation ago.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Surface Transit. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions here are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.