Josh Kurtz: Purple Haze and Red Red Whine

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Who says elections don’t have consequences?

But for inept gubernatorial campaigns run by Democratic lieutenant governors, 12 years apart, riders would probably already be hopping aboard the Purple Line in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, and the Red Line in Baltimore would be close to winning its final approvals.

Instead, this. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) oh-so-grudgingly consents to let the Purple Line live another day, but with caveats that make the advocates’ celebrations seem premature. And he outright kills the Red Line, another symbolic dagger in the heart of beleaguered Baltimore.

The wonder is he kept the Purple Line alive at all. Hogan did say some nice things about its potential as an economic driver, and about D.C.-area residents’ propensity to use mass transit – validating many of the arguments that the project’s biggest supporters had advanced.

It’s possible, though, that after all the state’s efforts to attract private sector bidders to help build and operate the light rail line, any future attempts in Maryland to create public-private partnerships for infrastructure projects would have had no credibility whatsoever if Hogan had killed the Purple Line. The explanation for the lifeline he extended may be as simple as that.

The Hogan administration is saying little about how the project will be financed now, except for the governor’s insistence that the two counties cough up more. That should be doable in Montgomery County, but is considerably more challenging for Prince George’s – and the funding uncertainty alone could be enough to stymie the rail line for the foreseeable future.

Some version of the Purple Line, an east-west transit connector through the two counties, has been in the wind – if not on the boards – for 30 years now. So proponents have gotten used to waiting – and maybe that’s why they’re not panicking.

After all, the Intercounty Connector highway was on planners’ scopes for more than 50 years – and was killed once, by former Gov. Parris Glendening (D) in 1999 – before it was ever built. As big-ticket transportation projects in the D.C. suburbs go, the Purple Line is a pup.

But even with all the federal and state support, Hogan’s announcement last week doesn’t give the project the full momentum it truly needs. This feels like a gubernatorial pardon, a respite, with many more battles to come, rather than full-on validation.

Of course, limbo beats outright execution, which was the Red Line’s fate. Baltimore’s political, civic and business leaders, along with the editorial writers at The Sun, were understandably devastated and outraged.

“Rarely has a Maryland governor delivered such a direct blow to Baltimore’s future – and the region’s economy – like the one Larry Hogan has landed,” The Sun’s editorial Friday began. Rarely has a Sun editorial been so vituperative.

It was not surprising to see Hogan couple his decisions on the two rail lines with an announcement about all the highway funding he would be spreading around the state. He made it known throughout last year’s campaign and since that roads and bridges would be his top priority – and that he was skeptical of investments in transit.

And the decision to kill the Red Line? On some level, it may have been justifiable – if only funding had been made available for other transit projects in the city. In an incisive analysis

(link: https://www.baltimorebrew.com/2015/06/26/analysis-how-the-red-line-found-itself-in-a-deep-hole/) in Baltimore Brew the other day, reporter Mark Reutter reminded readers that the city has myriad transit needs, and suggested that any state funding for Baltimore would be better spent on something less grandiose than the Red Line, which might have spurred economic development but would not have done much to address the city’s subpar transit system.

But in Hogan’s decision to kill the Red Line, there was an unmistakable message: There is very little political gain for him to shower largesse on the city of Baltimore. In fact, quite the opposite is true. It was hardly a coincidence that all that road funding is coming at the expense of the Red Line.

Hogan’s political base all but demands that he keep kicking sand in the face of the city and its leaders, just as he did when he and his advisers publicly tried to embarrass Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake (D) in the immediate wake of the city’s riots. Hogan’s supporters in rural, suburban and exurban areas nurture long-held resentments toward the city and its ills – and government spending to address them. Even though he and his advisers would never cop to it, every decision Hogan makes regarding funding for Baltimore has to be viewed in that context.

If the city has an opportunity to fight back, it may be during next year's legislative session, when spending bills will be vetted by House Appropriations Chairwoman Maggie McIntosh (D), one of Baltimore’s staunchest defenders. McIntosh and Democrats in the General Assembly may not be able to fully reverse Hogan's spending priorities, but they may at least be able to find something extra for Baltimore transit programs.

Meanwhile, it’s interesting to note that for all his talk about being a pro-business governor, Hogan did the exact opposite of what Baltimore business leaders wanted – and didn’t for a second weigh the consequences of going against their wishes. One person’s pro-business agenda is another’s recipe for wasteful spending – and in Maryland, the business community is not monolithic. There are in fact several different business communities in the state – divided by geography and the size and priorities and political leanings of their constituencies.

Of course, it’s also hard not to wonder whether Hogan’s moves are part of the national conservative war on mass transit, which is playing out on Capitol Hill and in statehouses and city halls across the country, and is driven in part by groups affiliated with the Koch brothers.

Hogan is considered a moderate Republican – but that’s only in the context of the modern-day GOP. He is, by his own admission, a Reaganite.

But even Ronald Reagan pushed for a significant gas tax increase in 1982, to spend more on roads and transit – an idea that is anathema to most Republicans nowadays. Hogan himself seems determined to dismantle the enhanced revenue streams for transportation that former Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and the Democratic legislature put together just a few years ago.

So the Red Line is dead, the Purple Line is hobbling, and the Hogan agenda and political operation keeps rolling along – presumably on newly-paved roads.

Josh Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily, a Capitol Hill publication. He can be reached at . Follow him on Twitter -- @joshkurtznews

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Josh Kurtz has been writing about Maryland politics since late 1995. Louie Goldstein, William Donald Schaefer and Pete Rawlings were alive, but the Intercounty Connector, as far as anyone could tell, was dead.


But some things never change: Mike Miller is still in charge of the Senate. Gerry Evans and Bruce Bereano are among the top-earning lobbyists in Annapolis. Steny Hoyer is still waiting for Nancy Pelosi to disappear. And Maryland Republicans are still struggling to be relevant.


The media landscape in Maryland has changed a lot, and Kurtz is happy to write weekly for Center Maryland. He's been writing a column for the website since it launched in January 2010.


In his "real" job, Kurtz is editor of Environment & Energy Daily down on Capitol Hill. But he'll always find Maryland politics more fascinating.


Kurtz grew up in New York City and attended public schools there. He has a BA in History from the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Journalism from Columbia University. He's married with two daughters and lives in Takoma Park, Md. He hopes you'll drop him a line, or maybe go out for a meal with him, because he's always hungry -- for political gossip.