Maryland District 18 Delegate Candidate Joel Rubin Testifies in Support of HB 1641 to Correct Environmental/Economic Injustice in State Transportation Projects
March 09, 2018
Joel Rubin, candidate for State Delegate in District 18 and Council Member for the Town of Chevy Chase, submitted written testimony in support of Delegate Al Carr’s (D-18) House Bill 1641: The Maryland Transportation Public Private Partnership Oversight Act. This legislation will create an Office of Transportation Oversight which would ensure that no Transportation project creates any environmental or economic injustice in minority and low-income communities. One potential beneficiary of the OTO is Lyttonsville, whose community has been negatively impacted.
"Recently, I learned that one of Maryland's most important targets for achieving Sustainability, Opportunity and Security for all our residents -- as I like to put it – is potentially being missed by the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) and the Purple Line Transit Partners (PLTP)," writes Joel. "As a candidate for Congress in the last election cycle and a current Member of the Council of the Town of Chevy Chase, I have seen a continued trend by the Hogan Administration to not live up to its commitments to the communities most directly affected by the Purple Line construction."
"I hope that the House of Delegates would find value in the creation of an office that would help to restore the balance of power over transportation projects being implemented across the State. Such an office would demonstrate that the House of Delegates is ready to step in on behalf of Marylanders, where there has been overreach by the Governor and his Transportation Secretary to the detriment of their constituents. "
Testimony of Joel Rubin
In SUPPORT of Delegate Al Carr’s (D-18)
House Bill 1641:
The Maryland Transportation Public Private Partnership Oversight Act
Honorable Chair and Members of the Committee and Subcommittee,
My name is Joel Rubin. I have been a resident of Montgomery County, where I live with my wife, three young daughters, and mother in law, for more than a decade. I am currently a candidate for State Delegate in District 18 and am also a locally elected government official, serving as a Council Member for the Town of Chevy Chase. I am providing written testimony today on behalf of myself and not the Town Council. I am submitting this in writing only because I could not be here in person due to a previously arranged scheduling conflict.
For nearly 20 years I have dedicated my professional work to public service, including as a Peace Corps Volunteer, federal civil servant, U.S. Senate aide, and senior appointee in the Obama Administration. I believe in the capacity of government to do good and to help advance the quality of life for all our citizens. Maryland’s state and local governments are currently the only governments in the United States protecting the residents of Maryland from a federal government intent upon abandoning responsible governance for the American people.
Marylanders depend upon our state and local governments now more than ever and I am grateful to you for your service on our behalf. This is why I am providing testimony today. I am doing so out of concern for the use of our tax dollars in support of infrastructure projects, such as the Purple Line, that merit serious oversight, but are not receiving it.
Recently, I learned that one of Maryland's most important targets for achieving Sustainability, Opportunity and Security for all our residents -- as I like to put it – is potentially being missed by the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) and the Purple Line Transit Partners (PLTP). That is the set-aside of state funded projects for minority owned businesses. The crucial goal for such spending at the state level is targeted to be a minimum of 15% of state project spending, with a goal of 29% of project spending overall.
I was informed that the MTA and PLTP are not achieving these goals, particularly as a percentage of the Purple Line construction budget. If accurate, this would be a violation not only of the state’s spending goals, but also of the moral compact that the state and PLTP made with the people of Maryland to secure their support in paying for this project.
Environmental and economic justice should not take a backseat on the Purple Line. However, the traditional tools that the state government possesses to conduct oversight of public expenditures like the Purple Line do not exist for this project. This situation must be rectified if state objectives, such as set-asides for minority owned businesses, are going to be met.
As a candidate for Congress in the last election cycle and a current Member of the Council of the Town of Chevy Chase, I have seen a continued trend by the Hogan Administration to not live up to its commitments to the communities most directly affected by the Purple Line construction. There has been a persistent lack of responsiveness by the PLTP to public concerns related to project scheduling, noise mitigation, safety for pedestrians, and potential damage to homes near the construction sites. It’s also worth noting that as Council liaison to the Town of Chevy Chase's Special Committee on Purple Line Mitigation, I have noticed deep disappointment in the lack of responsiveness of the MTA and PLTP to the concerns of both residents and their elected leaders as well.
Yet this is not a problem for Chevy Chase alone. Nor is it a Purple Line-only concern. There is a currently a structural flaw in how the State conducts oversight of P3 projects, one that weakens the ability of public officials to oversee how public funds are being spent, to ensure that these projects are truly meeting public goals.
I therefore applaud Delegate Carr’s work today in introducing H.B. 1641, which will create an Office of Transportation Oversight (OTO). This bill will correct the weak oversight of the MTA and bring back balance to our transportation choices and budgets. I also support the amendments that I understand Delegate Carr intends to offer to enhance the Transportation Planning process, by adding performance and financial criteria and a strong role for the OTO and a funding mechanism based on a surcharge on the dirtiest transportation fuels that will cover the budget of the OTO.
One of the purposes of the OTO is to ensure that no Transportation project creates any environmental or economic injustice, especially towards "environmental justice" communities, i.e. minority and low-income communities. One example of a potential beneficiary of the OTO is Lyttonsville, whose historic bridge is slated to be destroyed, rather than repaired as experts and community leaders have recommended, and as many thought Section 4(f) of the Federal Transportation Act required, in order to have the Purple Line cost less for its builders. The residents of Lyttonsville deserve better and need a governmental authority to help them to protect their community.
Meanwhile, construction of the Purple Line without the timely public release of the Transportation Plan called for in the MTA's Mitigation Commitments, creates additional transportation difficulties for Lyttonsville, Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Silver Spring, and every other community affected by it. We need to ensure that the MTA lives up to these commitments, but have no real mechanism to do so. That’s why we need the OTO.
The OTO would have the power and duty to enforce the Mitigation Commitments that the MTA now says cannot be enforced by any third party -- even the Towns and schools and Counties specifically mentioned in those "Commitments." Creating an OTO now would fix this policy failure by providing real backbone for the enforcement of the implementation of these commitments – something that our constituents demand.
The OTO would benefit Maryland residents across multiple legislative districts. Here’s a full list of transportation related bills that could be potentially affected by the OTO. And below is a sample of those legislative district who would directly benefit now.
Environment and Transportation Committee Chairman Kumar Barve (D-17) represents a district encompassing Rockville and Gaithersburg that depends on I-270 and MARC Train service. Governor Hogan has proposed a new P3 to add privatized toll lanes to I-270, I-495, and I-295. Sky-high tolls are an increasing concern, given all of the recent press from Virginia's recent tolling of I-66. The OTO would oversee and control any overreaching by similar projects in Maryland.
Del. Ann Healey (D-22) represents College Park and Hyattsville through which the proposed MagLev would run. Del. Marvin Holmes (D-23B) represents Bowie, which is also concerned about MagLev. Each of these Delegates will have a friend and ally for their constituents in the OTO.
Delegate Carr's statewide OTO bill would assist counties in intervening and correcting encroachment by P3s on both private property rights and the rights of counties. In addition, as he proposes to amend it to add a role that includes Transportation Planning, Delegate Carr's bill would also touch upon the MagLev project by helping to develop a transportation plan that would not overbuild, underperform or hurt local residents unfairly or unnecessarily.
Maggie McIntosh (D-43) of Baltimore, who chairs the appropriations committee, would find that the office would be financed entirely from the proceeds of taxes on motor fuels, and from 2020 onward, based on a very small incremental tax on the dirtiest of those fuels -- diesel and large ships' bunker fuels – thereby providing a modest incentive for users of those to move toward the most efficient, cleanest engines possible.
In addition, Baltimore area legislators are concerned about Gov. Hogan's cancellation of the red line and the lack of state transportation investment to their region relative to other parts of the state. The OTO would apply objective cost benefit standards to all P3 transportation projects and do it early, if the Planning amendment to the Carr bill is adopted, which would potentially address their concerns.
Another House committee chair, Dereck Davis (D-25) from Prince George's County, would benefit from the OTO's power to correct the harm to Prince George's County. These harms have been explained by civil rights lawyer and development and transportation blogger, Bradley Heard, (PGUrbanist.com) who cited County and WMATA reports to show that the Purple Line’s many new stations in Prince George's County would actually dilute the concentration of investment and commerce planned for existing transit hubs in the County, with the result that most planned economic development is likely to fail altogether, resulting in net tax losses and egregious economic and environmental injustice to those communities.
In closing, I hope that the House of Delegates would find value in the creation of an office that would help to restore the balance of power over transportation projects being implemented across the State. Such an office would demonstrate that the House of Delegates is ready to step in on behalf of Marylanders, where there has been overreach by the Governor and his Transportation Secretary to the detriment of their constituents.
Maryland needs better, stronger, and more effective oversight mechanisms to ensure that the public goals of transportation projects are met, particularly when they are of the P3 variety. The current mechanisms are not up to the task. An OTO would fix this policy failure.
Lastly, let me again thank Delegate Carr for his good work on this issue, and thank the Committee for the opportunity to consider my testimony in support of it.