Red Line Rejection and Hogan’s Political Calculus 

While many Montgomery County politicos and advocates are jubilant about the decision to proceed with the Purple Line, folks in Baltimore are fuming about Larry Hogan’s decision to kill the Red Line project there.

Dashing Baltimore’s hopes for a long-anticipated east-west light rail line to improve its transit network, Gov. Larry Hogan said Thursday that he will not build the $2.9 billion Red Line across the city.

“We are not opposed to public transportation. We are opposed to wasteful boondoggles,” the governor said. “The Red Line as currently proposed is not the best way to bring jobs and opportunity to the city.”

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By eliminating the expense of the Red Line and scaling back the state’s share of the Purple Line, Hogan freed up hundred of millions of dollars he plans to use to undertake a significant shift in the state’s transportation priorities from public transit to road projects.

The governor announced $2 billion in highway spending, $1.35 billion of it new, as part of a long-range plan to give the state road system 57 percent of the transportation pie rather than the 45 percent share it received under Gov. Martin O’Malley. Hogan said he was keeping the promise he made to Maryland voters to make the state’s roads his No. 1 priority.

By deciding not to go ahead with the Red Line, the Republican governor is dealing a major blow to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who had hoped construction of the light rail project would bring a windfall of jobs and economic development.

Rawlings-Blake said she was “disheartened’ by Hogan’s decision.

“Although the governor has promised to support economic growth in Baltimore, he canceled a project that would have expanded economic development, created thousands of jobs, increased access to thousands more, and offered residents better health care, child care and educational opportunities,” she said.

The politics of this split decision are obvious. Hogan is seeking to splinter the Baltimore/Montgomery/Prince George’s Democratic base, delivering for the D.C. suburbs and snubbing Charm City. Even the “winning” Purple Line is going to result in a significantly increased county burden, probably in the neighborhood of $300 million combined for Montgomery County and Prince George’s counties during construction alone.

In the meantime, Baltimore is going to be rightfully seething, and any effort to provide direct or indirect financial assistance to offset the new local Purple Line costs will be laughed at by the powers that be in Baltimore’s state delegation.

State Del. Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said she was blindsided by the action.

“To say I’m disappointed by the loss of the Red Line would be an understatement,” said McIntosh, who brokered a deal with Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. a decade ago to get the Red Line planning started.

Maggie is not happy. Watch for the next legislative session to be a war from day one. Hell, the guns will probably start firing way before that.

Finally, both Baltimore - which has virtually no road improvement projects on the $2 billion goodie list laid out by Hogan yesterday - and the D.C. suburbs will get the privilege of paying their proportional share of the costs of road improvement all over the state.

Note the double standard. When it comes to transit, Baltimore gets nothing and DC gets added costs.

For road construction, the rest of the state gets not only projects paid 100% by the State, but also more - Hogan announced that he intends to restore the “traditional” formula whereby counties get 30% of all state transportation funding for their local needs, to be allocated as the counties see fit. Translation - more free money for everyone else, zero or close to it for Baltimore.

Politically speaking, Hogan was masterful. He split his opposition, funding transit in MoCo/PG, while sticking it to Baltimore. He will now extort more money from the two Purple Line counties, who won’t get any sympathy from their political allies in Baltimore if they’re looking to make up the increased costs with state funding in other areas. By killing the Red Line, Hogan also frees up the funds to spend vastly more money on road construction and improvement jobs, projects which disproportionately benefits the rural and growing suburban areas of the state that supported him in 2014.

So the Purple Line got the green light. After that, there ain’t a whole lot more good news to report. Jubilant Purple Line advocates would be wise to be sensitive to this fact.

Day Of Reckoning?

Tomorrow could very well be the day for the Purple Line.

Gov. Larry Hogan has scheduled a press conference for 2:30 p.m. Thursday at the State House in Annapolis in which he plans to discuss “transportation infrastructure.”

The governor’s press office declined to provide any details about the press conference.

Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer told the The Washington Post Tuesday that the governor plans to make a decision on whether or not to construct the $2.45 billion light-rail project by the end of the month.

Could be the Baltimore Red Line, but I’m thinking Purple Line. I think lunch in Annapolis will be well worth the trip tomorrow.

Collective breath holding can begin right . . . now.

Chevy Chase Comes Clean

Bethesda Magazine has obtained a copy of a memorandum to the Town of Chevy Chase from its high-priced K Street lobbyists who have been working for over a year to try to kill the Purple Line at both the state and federal level. Total billings thus far exceed $500,000.

Of particular note, the Town has a new mayor after a hotly debated “stealth candidate” was elected to the Town Council, replacing former mayor Pat Burda, the architect of the lobbying plan which has thus far consumed over $500,000 of Town funds. In addition, a lawsuit is pending over the request by Ben Ross of Action Committee for Transit for documents relating to the retention of the lobbying firm. The Town had previously refused to provide any documents in response to Ross’ Public Information Act (PIA) request. It may well be that the public disclosure of the lobbying plan is a signal that the new administration intends to be more forthcoming about the documents requested by Ross. We’ll have to see how things go.

Another significant point - per the Bethesda Magazine article, the Town passed a budget last night for FY2016 that contains zero funding for lobbying on the Purple Line.

None of this will be very welcome news to Seventh State blogger David Lublin, former mayor of the Town, ardent Purple Line opponent, and ally of Pat Burda. Lublin has devoted four lengthy and increasingly angry blog posts since May 13 (out of 12 total posts) to railing about the Chevy Chase election, calling for the invalidation of the May election, and questioning the integrity of John Bickerman, new mayor Al Lang and others. At no time, however, has Lublin ever disclosed to his readers: (1) his prior status as mayor, (2) his close working relationship with Pat Burda both as mayor and subsequently as a member of the Town Council, (3) his lengthy antagonistic history with John Bickerman, (4) his role, if any, in the hiring of the lobbyists to oppose the Purple Line, or (5) the pendency of the Ben Ross PIA lawsuit and what if anything it might bring to light about the above issues. Kind of a glaring omission there.

Memo to Aaron Kraut - I’d think twice about quoting David Lublin as an objective source on the election - and I’d start seeing the two articles you wrote today as inextricably linked. Because they are.