Thank you all for coming to Annapolis. It’s a very eventful day. We have about six or seven bills that are going through the Legislature. There’s not a more important place, from my perspective, that you could be than here, emphasizing the importance of a lot of the decisions that are going to be made just a few blocks away, especially as they affect business, our competitiveness as a State and as a region, and that main mission that all of us, Democrats and Republicans alike have, which is to make our economy grow, make our economy go, create jobs, and expand opportunity.
Joe Rigby, thank you for your leadership. Thank you for the work that we’ve done together. We have each other on speed dial. I want to thank you for the forthright way that you address the issues that impact so immediately on the public. I want to thank you for all the big improvements that you’ve made in Pepco. I certainly have seen the additional tree trimming. Always an issue of controversy in Montgomery County. When it storms, they’re angry that you haven’t cut enough, and when it’s not stormy, they’re angry that you even think of cutting them! (Laughter). We’re a people very comfortable in our own contradictions, aren’t we? (Laughter). We all want to go to heaven and none of us wants to die. We all want to lose weight and eat cake at the same time. I also want to thank Cliff Kendall for all his work on the university system, and college affordability and excellence, and everything that goes with that.
Let me share a few words with you, especially about transportation. I thank you for giving me the opportunity to share with you some thoughts today. I really need all of you, and I need you especially this session. Some of the tougher things we’re asking the Legislature to do frankly won’t happen unless your voices are heard. Because the inertia of the way we’ve always done it or the way the status quo is, is just so great, and just so heavy, especially as we come out of this national recession, that it’s really going to require forward-thinking leaders, people who have to balance bottom lines, people who have the business sense to be in the halls of Annapolis, to lay out for people that in fact we’re going to face greater costs through inaction than we would face if we make the investment now in things like a better transportation network.
I want to wish all of you a Happy Valentine’s Day. I wanted to speak with you today and also thank you for the good work you’ve done with us together. The progress we’ve made on WMATA, not only the funding for WMATA but also the progress that we’re making on safety issues at WMATA. I’ve been impressed at the openness and transparency with which the general manager Mr. Sarles has attacked the problems there. WMATA and Metro system in particular have never had these sorts of public dashboards and the ability for citizens to see whether we’re making any progress, greater progress this month than we were last month on things like escalators or the other safety issues. The good work we’re doing on the Marcellus Shale; coming up with the gold standard; the most responsible way forward in terms of any extraction in Maryland.
And also advancing public-private partnerships. I know that Baltimore is a metropolitan area that’s many, many, many light years away from Washington, DC, but that public-private partnership that we did on the port was a leader among those in the nation, and we want to do more of them. In fact, our Lt. Governor is championing the bill to make that process clearer and I hope to have your continued partnership on that as well. I look forward to continuing to work with you on these issues. We do need your vision and we do need your voice on these priorities that we share. This group, better than most, understands the costs of inaction.
The Greater Washington area now has America’s worst traffic congestion. Not nearly worst, not almost worst, not among the worst, not twenty away from the worst. We have the worst. We’re in last place. What do you do with a team that’s in last place? You’ve got to make some changes. We have worse traffic than Chicago, worse than Los Angeles, worse than Houston, worse than New York. Commuters are stuck in excess traffic for an average of 74 hours each year. That’s the equivalent of nine 8-hour work days. Statewide, Marylanders have the longest average daily commute in America at 31.8 minutes. By way of comparison, the average daily commute in California is 26 minutes.
You don’t need to be a traffic engineer to see that we have not kept pace with the transportation needs that we have in our area with a growing population. Every day we’re paying a huge price for this under-investment. We pay in the amount of hours that we waste in traffic jams. We pay in terms of the lost productivity at work. We pay in the amount of fuel that we waste idling in parts of 495 that look a lot more like a parking lot than it does like a Beltway. We pay in terms of the time we lose sitting in traffic that we should be home with our families.
With a growing population and an aging infrastructure, we might soon pay an even steeper price because bridges are not like trees. They do not grow stronger and broader with age. And yet today, with gasoline at $3.59 a gallon, our primary source of revenue for our transportation needs is the same flat 23 cents per gallon it was during Governor Schaefer’s second term, when gas was $1.08 per gallon.
So 20 years later, our road network has expanded with the growing population, a growing economy, and yes, with expanded land consumption. Gasoline now costs $3.59, but our primary revenue supporting our transportation infrastructure is the same flat 23 cents a gallon.
All of our bridges have grown older as their structural lives approach their end. Our roads are more jammed with traffic than ever. It costs more now to paint the Bay Bridge than it did to build the first span when it was initially constructed. That’s a fact. And meanwhile many of you might have seen the Baltimore Sun editorial on this gas tax issue that said that “if Maryland continues to embrace a 1992 tax rate, it will have to settle for crumbling 1992-era infrastructure.” That pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it?
This is a difficult issue. Through the years, as you know, and I’ve sat with many of you when we were going through the interview process, and as you all were weighing your options in the elections and we talked about the difficulty with this particular tax.
If you sit in the board rooms of the Board of Trade or the GBC, virtual unanimity around the table about the common sense that it makes and how important this is and how we should all agree to do this. And yet if you go to a community meeting, especially now, after the huge amount of job loss, a decade of stagnant wages in our country, you will find unanimity among your fellow citizens in being opposed to a penny’s increase on anything having anything to do with gasoline.
And so that’s our problem here right now. We have to break out of that sense that the pennies that we invest right now cannot save us down the road, because in fact they can. And in fact by doing nothing, we’re doomed to pay a lot more than what would pay if we had a more robust and balanced investment in our transportation needs as a State.
Through the years, there have been many recommendations on funding options, and no one has wanted to ask people to do more. This afternoon our administration is introducing legislation that would repeal the current sales-tax exemption on a gallon of gas, phasing it out by 2% a year for the next three years with a braking mechanism in place in the event that gasoline were to spike at more than a 15% increase from one year to another. It will also restore significant amounts of funding to our municipalities and our counties. What is significant for our municipalities? We’ll all have to maintain 100% of their road infrastructure. It would be about a 71% restoration, if you will, of what they had been receiving under the revenue-sharing mechanism of the Highway User Fund. For the counties it would be about a 41% restoration for all of the counties.
This enhanced investment on this scale would also allow us to create 7,500 new jobs in our very, very, very hard-hit construction trade sector. That’s new jobs building needed roads, bridges, and hopefully public transit throughout our State.
So in conclusion, getting this through the General Assembly is a very, very heavy lift and I’ll need your help. I need your help with the credibility that you bring to this endeavor from a business perspective. There’s a wonderful motto, of a major, giant retailer in our country that says “Pay less. Live better.” We’d like to believe that that’s true for republics as well. But it’s not. India didn’t build the road infrastructure that we currently have for us. China did not do that for us. Warren Buffett and philanthropy did not do that for us.
There are some things that we can only do together, and there are some things that will only get done if we choose to do them together. So I guess my plea to you this afternoon is that you not underestimate your ability to affect the outcome of this discussion. And it could well be, as we search for a way forward in this arena of compromise, that the Legislature – I know this may be shocking to you – doesn’t accept all of my recommendations. (Laughter) But if you weigh in, and if you get involved, they are far more likely to find some way forward. That’s what I need for you to do.
It is so easy to in this cynical time to assume that our politicians never listen to us, our elected officials never listen to us, they don’t care, they don’t understand and they don’t grasp the reality. Somehow behind that curtain they make decisions for whatever reason they make decisions and reason has no impact on them. I have met with virtually every member of the General Assembly – certainly all of the Democrats one on one, the Republicans I’ve met many of them one on one and certainly as a group.
There is still a heart that’s beating in this State of people that want to do better by their kids. They want to give a better quality of life to our kids. And there’s common ground to be found here on these investments. Our parents found that common ground. Our grandparents found that common ground. I wish that we had the luxury of waiting until we recover everything that we’ve lost in the recession. But we really don’t have that luxury. The costs are already coming down on us. The only way to avoid those costs is to make better choices.
I really do hope that you will work with the Legislature, that you will work the relevant committees, and that you will have your voices heard. And also, don’t underestimate the potential that you have to affect the outcome of this by talking to your employees about this.
At the end of the day, the Legislature can only go as far as people they represent have the willingness to go. And that willingness is affected by their understanding of what these dollars mean and what the potential is here, and also what the tradeoffs and the costs are if we choose not to act.
Look, I appreciate you hearing me out and I hope that this will not be your last visit to Annapolis this session. I really need you, and our quality of life is one of our most competitive advantages also needs you. Thanks a lot. (Applause)