MD, VA legislators tap highway money to ease budget crisis

| Tuesday, February 25, 2003

Elected leaders in the Washington, DC, area are tapping money intended for road construction and repairs to help resolve their budget problems, The Washington Post reported.

The transportation funds – with their big balances and projects that take years to complete – have become irresistible.

In Virginia, close to $2.2 billion from fuel and sales taxes will flow into the state's transportation trust fund this year, so Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) and Republican lawmakers are hoping the $63 million they are diverting to help balance the state's budget will never be missed.

Meanwhile, Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. (R) has proposed using $500 million from the state's transportation fund to prevent massive budget cuts. He says he can do so without doing serious harm to the state's road and transit system.

Ehrlich and Warner are taking advantage of state constitutions that do not seal off transportation money. Voters in many other states long ago passed constitutional amendments guaranteeing transportation money would not be diverted during difficult times.

Political leaders in the region say they can tap into the funds temporarily without slowing down construction of roads and rails. But suburban business leaders and some lawmakers insist the practice threatens the effort to ease traffic congestion.

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