Attorney General Doug Gansler (D) on Tuesday told transit activists his criticism of the state’s gas tax increase doesn’t mean he opposes transit projects in Montgomery County such as the Purple Line light rail.
Gansler, who next month will announce his bid for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination, told the Action Committee for Transit that he supports the Purple Line and that it would be his foremost transportation priority if he were elected.
If elected in June’s Democratic primary and next fall’s gubernatorial election, Gansler would take over as governor in January 2015. At that point, the Purple Line, “would be out of the station,” Gansler quipped.
The Maryland Transit Administration hopes construction on the light rail begins in 2015.
In April, the General Assembly was still negotiating a gas tax increase to replenish the state’s transportation fund and pay for projects such as the Purple Line, the 16-mile, $2.2 billion light rail that will have stops in Bethesda and Chevy Chase.
Gansler was critical of the gas tax increase in the context of a Washington Post story about his gubernatorial opponent, Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown:
“Virginia is cleaning our clocks economically,” Gansler said. “To me, the solution to our transportation needs should not be to tax poor people and working families.”
On Tuesday, Gansler said those comments don’t mean he was against the Purple Line. He also said at the time the gas tax increase was passed, it made sense:
“My problem is what they did is they drained the transportation trust fund and then said, ‘Oh my god, we’ve got no money for the transportation trust fund, now we have to raise money on the backs of poor people.’ My problem with the gas tax is that it’s a regressive tax and it favors rich people over poor people.
“We talk about minimum wage all the time. Gas is very expensive, now you’re paying 23 cents a gallon more. There’s no one here who wants to go to the local Exxon and say here, here’s $10 more. People don’t want to do that, especially somebody who’s making less than $10 an hour.
“My point is, we shouldn’t have gotten to that point. We should have been much more effective, much more efficient. We have $18 billion in procurement, government contracts a year. If you make that system transparent, competitive, five percent more efficient, you could pay for many of these projects. So that was the point I was making. What was in the newspaper, you’ll be shocked to know wasn’t the full picture.”
Gansler said building the Corridor Cities Transitway in upper Montgomery County is another priority as well as connecting Metro across the Woodrow Wilson Bridge to a planned casino in Prince George’s County.
He said he believes in smart growth and his upbringing in Montgomery County would allow him to steer some state transportation policies toward more pedestrian friendly roads.
Gansler also indicated he’s willing to invest in more P3s (public-private partnerships) to fund and build transportation projects, though he said “the devil is in the details,” about whether such deals are good for the state.
Brown was front and center last week in Bethesda in presenting the state’s P3 concept for the Purple Line. Gov. Martin O’Malley praised Brown for shepherding a bill through the state legislature that will make it easier to attract private investment in transportation projects.