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The Maryland State House in Annapolis by m01229 licensed under Creative Commons.

3.1.23 – Greater Greater Washington

This Maryland General Assembly session has the potential to be the most impactful one in over a decade. This year’s legislative session, already halfway done, has brought 40 new Delegates, ten new Senators, five new committee chairs, and even a new (or at least newly renamed) Senate committee.

Arguably the biggest change is the election of Wes Moore as Governor of Maryland. This is the one with the biggest implication for the ability of the Democratic supermajorities of the Maryland General Assembly to tackle longstanding issues of transportation, housing, and the environment.

After eight years of urbanist bills having to pass by veto-proof margins (which often meant waiting until the next year to get overridden into law) and urbanist priorities getting relatively short shrift in the state budget, Maryland could pass a lot of those priorities into law.

Here are some of the top transportation, housing, and land use issues and bills to look out for as the 2023 Maryland legislative session enters its second half.

Cumberland MARC station by Tyler Nelson used with permission.

New structures, new funding?

If there’s one theme many of this year’s big transit bills have in common, it’s that they each try and find new ways of organizing or funding Maryland’s transportation systems and the backlog of maintenance and projects they’ve been accumulating over the past 8 years. Several pieces of legislation which fall into this category:

  • The Maryland Rail Investment Act, or HB (House Bill) 74 from new House Majority Leader Marc Korman (D-Montgomery) and its crossfile (when a bill gets an identical companion version in the other chamber to better ensure its chances of passage) SB (Senate Bill) 412 from Sen.Jim Rosapepe (D-Anne Arundel and Prince George’s), would create a Maryland Rail Authority to help finance, build, and even maintain and operate the state’s rail projects and facilities, from expanding MARC Commuter rail into Northern Virginia, Delaware, and Western Maryland to improving the existing MARC network to new(ly revived projects like Baltimore’s Red Line and Charles and Prince George’s County’s Southern Maryland Rapid Transit System using extra funds from the state’s toll road agency, the Maryland Transportation Authority.
  • HB 491/SB 465 from Del. Tony Bridges (D-Baltimore City) and Sen. Mary Washington (D-Baltimore City and Baltimore County), which follows up on the recommendations of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council by establishing a “Commission to Study Establishing a Baltimore Regional Transit Authority”. (One of the secrets of Annapolis is that the General Assembly loves task forces and commissions to study doing pretty much everything under the sun, but a good chunk of them actually do help achieve their goal. In this case that’s to figure out what a regional transit authority for Baltimore would actually look like and how it might be funded.)
  • HB 794/SB 876, also from Bridges and Washington, to create a “Baltimore Transit Commission” exercising more direct oversight over the local rail and bus portfolios of the MTA (including Light RailLink, Metro Subwaylink, and core local bus service) and its budgets and plans for the Baltimore region, regardless of whether or not it adopts a regional transit authority or what that looks like if it does.
School bus blocking a crosswalk in Montgomery County by Joe Flood licensed under Creative Commons.

All about equity

Most of the rest of the big transportation bills this session can be classified as focusing on equity. For example,

  • The “Equitable and Inclusive Transit-Oriented Development Enhancement Act”, or HB 12/SB 151 from the House’s new Majority Whip, Jazz Lewis and the Senate’s new President Pro Tem, Malcolm Augustine (Both D-Prince George’s) tries, for the second straight year, to set up a capital grant and revolving loan fund to boost transit-oriented development.
300 North Apartments in West Baltimore as seen from the MARC Penn Line by Elvert Barnes licensed under Creative Commons.

Housing and the Environment

Some of the standouts here

It all comes down to the budget

Arguably the biggest bill, is HB 200/SB 181, this fiscal year’s budget bill. The staffing issues at MDOT, money for helping to revive Baltimore’s Red Line and tear down its infamous Highway to Nowhere, the continuing construction of the Purple Line, beginning to help address WMATA’s financial issues, a good portion of the funding mandates for all the other bills mentioned here, all of it falls under this massive behemoth of a bill (199 pages, and that’s before several dozen amendments get tacked on in committee and on the House and Senate floors).

Not only does the change in Governors spell massive changes for what goes into this year’s budget, so does a newly effective constitutional amendment approved by voters in 2020 allowing the General Assembly to increase, add to, or reduce parts of the budget.

Maryland governance has shifted greatly overnight. In a few weeks, we will see the earliest instances of how much that change will affect issues we care about the most.

Alex Holt is a New York state native, Maryland transplant, and freelance writer. He lives in Mt. Washington in Baltimore and enjoys geeking out about all things transit, sports, politics, and comics, not necessarily in that order. He was formerly GGWash’s Maryland Correspondent.