Larry Hogan, Maryland’s next governor, said he doesn’t want to fund transit plans like the Purple Line and Baltimore Red Line. If he wants to govern divisively, he can block them for four years or more, but there may be hope he’ll listen to business allies and support projects to make Maryland more economically competitive.
What damage could an anti-transit governor do?
Maryland was in this situation before. Democratic Governor Parris Glendening advanced the Purple Line; his successor, Republican Bob Ehrlich, stymied it. Under Martin O’Malley, the project (and Baltimore’s Red Line and other transit priorities) moved forward again.
However, during Ehrlich’s administration, the Purple Line was still a theoretical concept. Now, it’s very close to actual construction, and the federal government supports the line. If Hogan kills the project, he’ll be turning down likely federal dollars that won’t go to other Maryland priorities, and he’ll be disappointing many voters in a much more visceral way than under Ehrlich.
That didn’t stop Chris Christie (R-NJ) from turning down federal money to cancel the ARC tunnels to New York, or Rick Scott (R-FL) who rejected federal money for high-speed rail. But Hogan knows that Maryland is still a blue state, and Hogan isn’t running for President in the Republican primary in 2016. If he wants to have a political career, he will have to get re-elected in Maryland.
Hogan still has to work with a Democratic-controlled legislature that supports these projects. However, the legislature has limited budget power; it cannot increase budget items beyond what the governor requests, or move money from one program to another. The legislature could find other ways to put pressure on Hogan, but at least the Democratic caucus will have to act with a united front.
Could Hogan come around?
In the later part of the campaign, Hogan moderated his message on the Purple Line and Baltimore Red Line. He said he’s not against them, he just thinks that money needs to go to roads instead and wants to consider cheaper bus alternatives.
Most likely, to be willing to work with transit advocates, he will need to hear support for the line from his base of businesses and have Democrats offer a deal he can take.
Business groups supported Hogan because of his message of tax cuts. They also have strongly favored the Purple Line. Will they tell Hogan that it’s important to them?
David Moon, an organizer who once ran the Purple Line Now campaign and was just elected to the House of Delegates from the Silver Spring/Takoma Park area, said, “You’re not going to be able to [win Hogan over] from a regional DC-suburban perspective, or a liberal transit versus roads perspective,” or the environment (he ran against a stormwater fee calling it a “rain tax”). But if businesses are willing to stand up for infrastructure that will generate economic growth, he said, that is more compelling.
Hogan also ran on a platform of tax cuts, so he will likely want to win a tax cut. Perhaps the legislature will be willing to make a deal to cut some taxes in a way that helps the middle class. The Purple Line might have to compete with other priorities in the pro-transit counties like school construction as well. Having federal funding attached can help, but counties like Montgomery have a lot they want to pay for.
Will Maryland fall behind Virginia and DC?
Gus Bauman, a former Montgomery planning chair, wrote on Moon’s blog, Maryland Juice about how Virginia has been moving ahead of Maryland in building infrastructure to boost its economic competitiveness. Virginia got the Silver Line, which has made Tysons far more desirable, and last night Fairfax County passed a bond measure to fund more pedestrian and bicycle projects that will strengthen it further.
Bauman points to DC’s NoMa area, Alexandria’s Potomac Yard, and other areas that are gaining appeal for millenials because of transit. He wrote, “The cultural vibrancy of the DC area is rapidly consolidating around places like U St., 14th St., Ballston, Clarendon. Tysons and Potomac Yard will invariably follow. We must be candid with ourselves. Except for Silver Spring, Montgomery County has no place today that can realistically compete for the attentions and diverse demands of the all-important Uber Generation.”
Virginia got the Silver Line built despite Democrats and Republicans trading control of the governorship, state legislature, and White House. The Bush administration funded the line, and most of the construction happened under Republican Governor Bob McDonnell. Virginia business leaders stood strongly behind the project, and many Virginia Republicans recognized the need for the line.
Other businesspeople remain focused on tax rates and only tax rates as the only factor behind economic competitiveness. But study after study has shown that millennials are not looking for the cheapest place to live; they want a desirable one (that’s affordable, but usually it’s scarce real estate, not taxes, that make it unaffordable).
Tax rates matter, but so does infrastructure. The Purple Line would boost Montgomery County, the state of Maryland, and the region. The Red Line would do the same for Baltimore. It would be short-sighted and not fiscally prudent to cancel these projects.
But will Hogan hear that from business allies? Is he open-minded enough to see this? Does he want to be magnanimous rather than divisive in victory? And is he pragmatic enough to make a deal with Democrats to keep the federal money coming in and the projects moving forward?