- Associated Press - Saturday, October 4, 2014

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) - Maryland voters will decide in November whether to approve a constitutional amendment to make it harder for state officials to spend money in the state’s Transportation Trust Fund on anything unrelated to transportation.

Question 1 will be decided Election Day, along with local and statewide political races on the ballot.

If voters approve, money in the fund could not be spent on purposes other than transportation, unless the governor declares a fiscal emergency and the House and Senate approve transferring money with a three-fifths vote in each chamber. That would be 85 out of 141 House members and 29 out of 47 senators.

The Transportation Trust Fund is separate from the state’s General Fund, which includes money collected by the state that is not dedicated by law to any specific purpose.

The transportation fund is used to pay for operating and capital expenses for highway, transit, aviation, port and motor vehicle services and projects. The fund includes revenue from motor fuel taxes, motor vehicle excise taxes, motor vehicle registration and licensing fees, bond proceeds, rental car sales taxes, a portion of the state’s corporate income tax and revenues from transit, port and aviation operations.

The “lockbox” proposal is intended to put considerable limits on the practice of using transportation funding to patch other holes in the budget, a practice that was criticized as the state tapped transportation money to help balance the state budget during the recession and its aftermath.

Lawmakers passed legislation in 2013 to put the lockbox idea on the ballot. It came as part of a debate that resulted in a gas tax increase to shore up depleted revenue for transportation projects, providing assurance the added gas tax revenue would be used on transportation.

While most of the hundreds of millions of dollars that have been steered away from the fund were later paid back, the practice still detracted from the state’s ability to address growing transportation infrastructure challenges. The constitutional amendment would not apply to local highway user money allocated to local jurisdictions. The state has used highway user funds in recent years to address budget problems to the irritation of county officials who use the money to fix roads.

Del. Kathy Szeliga, a Republican representing parts of Baltimore and Harford counties who has been critical of the state’s spending practices, said money set aside for transportation shouldn’t be siphoned away for other purposes. She said the constitutional amendment will at least make it more difficult to spend the money on other things.

“It’s not perfect, but it’s a step in the right direction,” Szeliga said.

A coalition of organizations representing business, labor, transit and building industry leaders also are encouraging voters to approve the constitutional amendment. They include AAA Mid-Atlantic, the Suburban Maryland Transportation Alliance, the Maryland Transportation Builders and Materials Association, the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, the Maryland Association of Realtors and the Greater Baltimore Committee.

“It’s certainly much better than what we have now, which is no protection at all,” said Mahlon Anderson, managing director of public and government affairs for AAA Mid-Atlantic.

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