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Mikulski fiddles with car tax credits while transit burns

Maryland state lawmakers re-added a $10 million tax break for car purchases at the final stage of their budget negotiations. Legislators had previously decided to remove the credit to help shore up Maryland's finances until Senator Barbara Mikulski pushed to reinstate it. Mikulski inserted a similar provision into the federal stimulus bill earlier this year.

Unsold cars jam ports around the world. Photo original source unknown.

What could Maryland do with $10 million besides further incentivize people to buy new cars that most of them don't need? With just half that money, they could restore transit cuts in the Washington region and Baltimore. Those cuts threaten to cut off vital service to many residents who don't have alternatives, or will drive many Marylanders to commute by car instead of transit, increasing traffic, pollution and parking problems. DC and most Virginia jurisdictions came up with extra money to stave off most of their proposed cuts to Metro service, but Maryland remains $4.8 million behind. The other half of the $10 million could restore previous cuts or improve service in Baltimore.

Instead of preserving this vital transportation choice, Mikulski is intent on propping up an auto industry that has quite simply overproduced cars for the current economy. Americans would do just fine simply keeping their current cars a little longer. Meanwhile, cutting transit service not only destroys jobs, but harms many residents' ability to get to their jobs.

Tonight, Metro will hold the first two of their six hearings on service cuts, in Hyattsville and Vienna. Transit First! is continuing to call on area jurisdictions, especially Maryland, to avoid service cuts. They held a press event this morning at Prince George's Plaza Metro with County Councilmember Eric Olson and PG ACT's Karren Pope-Onwukwe to highlight the impact of the cuts, which hit Prince George's hardest.

Mikulski made an early name for herself in politics by opposing freeways that would have cut through Baltimore and destroyed historic neighborhoods. Sadly, like many freeway warriors of her era, she doesn't realize that the ever-expanding freeways outside Baltimore hurt that city's vitality almost as much as bulldozing a neighborhood, by driving development ever outward and removing jobs from downtown. Nor does she see how other governmental policies, like tax subsidies for car ownership, put cities at a disadvantage by drawing potential riders away from transit and forcing even more service cuts.

The Baltimore-Washington area is one of our nation's greatest metropolitan regions, including some of the best transit systems in the nation and a wide range of walkable, transit-oriented communities in and around two major cities. It's too bad Maryland's senior Senator seems intent on dismantling her state's existing advantages through her policy priorities. Her legacy may well be to bring about the very same form of destruction to Maryland's communities she fought to stop a generation ago.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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I must admit to be a bit confused, because the federal stimulus package gives a federal tax deduction on state sales taxes on new car sales, so I don't see what more Maryland is giving. The link says it comes out to $96 per car, which will have zero impact on the final purchasing decision.

That being said, you are broadly right that the $10 million would be more effectively spent on Metro. Last time I checked most of Maryland wasn't in Montgomery or PG county, but that is a Maryland issue.

Stimulating new cars sales is an important economic objective. Save your breath for increasing the gas tax -- which has a far more direct effect on reducing the amount of time we spend driving, and increases the value of livable/walkable communities.

by charlie on Apr 13, 2009 9:32 am • linkreport

Well, by population almost 2/5 of Maryland is Montgomery and Prince George's. 1/2 more is the Baltimore region. The remaining 1/10th is the rural counties. Maryland is currently a very metropolitan state.

That being said, this policy is a solution that might have made sense between the 1960's and 1980's. Not in the 2000's and 2010's. She's stuck in the past, just like most of our elected officials.

While stimulating new car sales is a worthy economic objective, it is less important for our long term economic health than the mobility of our citizenry. Encouraging car purchasing while cutting transit monies is missing the forest for the trees.

by Cavan on Apr 13, 2009 9:40 am • linkreport


Really? I've always wondered what the population distribution looked like in Maryland. You wouldn't happen to have the statistics for Virginia as well, would you?

by Art on Apr 13, 2009 10:16 am • linkreport

Baltimore dominates Maryland politics. Baltimore doesn't have transit, therefore Maryland's two senators (both from Baltimore) don't even think twice about what they can do for their state's DC suburbs. The only thing MoCo and PG are good for are their solidly reliable votes and sending tax revenue to Annapolis to be spent in Baltimore. I mean, just look at the state's transit options: Baltimore's bus system is run by the state (MTA), while Montgomery and PG must pay for their own bus service and WMATA subsidies. The Democrats who represent DC's suburbs will never complain; lest they be demonized for representing the wishes of the affluent as opposed to the needs of the poor in Baltimore.

by Adam L on Apr 13, 2009 10:36 am • linkreport

Art, according to a recent article in the Washingtonian, "Seven of ten residents live in metropolitan areas, whether in Northern Virginia, Richmond, or the Tidewater area." ( page 2)

Not sure about the population of Northern Virginia alone.

Adam L, that sounds a lot like Virginia politics - just substitute "Richmond" for "Baltimore" - not sure about the bus funding, though.

by Scott on Apr 13, 2009 10:46 am • linkreport

Adam L, a lot of good point with respect to Maryland politics. Recently, power has gradually started to shift toward the Washington suburbs solely due to population increases and the accompanying seats in the House of Delegates and Senate.

With respect to WMATA, the counties pay for WMATA bus service in their jurisdiction. This is similar to all WMATA jurisdictions. The Prince George's and Montgomery Metro (rail) subsidies are paid directly by the state, though. When appropriating transportation monies, Metro, MARC, and Baltimore Metro Subway, Light Rail, and Baltimore city bus services are appropriated before anything else.

As for a rail system in Baltimore, I don't think it's due to not wanting one. Baltimore has long wished they had a complete Metro comparable to ours. They never had the long series of incredibly fortunate political circumstances fall into place that our region did. They had their streetcars ripped out by the Highway Lobby in the early 1960's just like everyone else. Then, just like Washington, they spent the next couple of decades preventing their neighborhoods from being bulldozed. They were only able to get approval for one heavy rail line in the 1970's. After the Metro, the national attitude towards transit projects shifted from comprehensive systems to single lines. Even still, those single lines had to go through years and years of studies and cost-effectiveness red tape and whatnot. The light rail that opened in the early 1990's is the kind of project that process created. The Purple Line is only such a winner of a project because of the current existence of a comprehensive rail system. Similarly, the Red Line in Baltimore is only a winner because it would connect and improve the effectiveness of the existing Light Rail and Metro Subway.

I'm going to stick with my assertion that the senator is out of touch.

by Cavan on Apr 13, 2009 10:50 am • linkreport

and no, it's not like in Virginia. We don't get screwed to anywhere near the level that Northern Virginia gets screwed. Our state legislature is definitely not hostile towards us like in Virginia.

by Cavan on Apr 13, 2009 10:52 am • linkreport

Depends how you define Northern Virginia--if you stop at Loudoun and Prince William it's about 2.1 million. Add in Stafford and Fauquier and you get another 188,000.

2007 census estimates had 1.65 million for the Tidewater MSA, 1.2 million for the Richmond MSA, and about 818,000 for the remaining MSAs. IIRC the MSAs cover a lot of land that is exurban or rural though. When I add up the populations for Richmond City and the main suburban counties, for example, I only get about 900,000 people.

by alexandrian on Apr 13, 2009 11:07 am • linkreport

Germany actually caused a little boom in car sales by offering €2500 for bringing your old car to the dump (and getting a new one). This is wayyy smarter than the sales tax discount here in the US, because it actually takes old, polluting cars of the road, and replaces them by new cleaner cars. The sales tax thingie here only stimulates buying a new car. Most people presumably will then sell their old one. The €2500 premium also makes sure that cars that are worth more, will not be wasted.

by Jasper on Apr 13, 2009 12:11 pm • linkreport


Very, very, interesting article! I wonder what people here think about the possibility of NoVA splitting?

by Art on Apr 13, 2009 12:49 pm • linkreport

@ Art: Never gonna happen. Nobody in MD and VA wants to deal with DC as long as DC keeps electing clowns like Marion Barry.

by Jasper on Apr 13, 2009 12:58 pm • linkreport

Correction to Cavan's comment. The state pays the full cost of WMATA bus service (regional Metrobus route costs are shared among all jurisdictions under a formula similar to Metrorail and the Metrobus service that is designated as "local" bus service). The state pays part of the cost of the local bus systems Ride-On and The Bus.

The counties originally paid the cost of Metrobus service when it started in 1974, but that changed a number of years ago.

by kreeggo on Apr 13, 2009 4:33 pm • linkreport


You've probably got a point, but still it would be something to imagine, no?

by Art on Apr 13, 2009 4:44 pm • linkreport

Can somebody please challenge this woman in the primary? She is and has been useless in the Senate for a long time. I wish somebody had the balls to take her on (preferably someone from the DC Metro). Van Hollen, maybe? A guy can dream.

by Reza on Apr 13, 2009 4:44 pm • linkreport

Time to start pushing more tax credits for transit and biking/walking.

Save the American bike industry? The American sneaker industry?

by Gavin Baker on Apr 13, 2009 7:22 pm • linkreport

@ Art: I think the dream of DC having normal representation is a lot closer than the State of MoPGDCNoVa/Columbia. Despite the ties to DC, there are a lot of happy Virginians and Marylanders that came from elsewhere in the state and would rather that their representatives acted like grown-ups, than having to secede and still being stuck with the same corrupted megalomaniacs.

Washingtonians tend to think the world revolves around them, but you'd be surprised how many Fairfaxians and Gaitherburgians never actually come into the District. I am.

But I will not stop you from dreaming. It's wonderful.

by Jasper on Apr 13, 2009 9:30 pm • linkreport

Our current road infrastructure is fully capable of handling traffic. Currently 81% of trips in Maryland are by single occupancy vehicles. (as low as 68% in our urban areas). If we were to increase carpooling from 13% to 18%, mass transit from 7% to 11% and biking/walking as well, we could actually see less traffic and pollution over the next ten years even with more people in our state. Encouraging car ownership is not only backward, but will continue to fuel our increasing obesity rates, sprawl, pollution and the number one killer of 3-33 year olds.

by Greg Cantori on Apr 14, 2009 8:04 am • linkreport

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