When the Maryland Senate passed its version of the state budget last week, it included deep cuts to Baltimore’s main funding source for fixing its battered roadways after fiscal year 2025.

Gov. Wes Moore avoided cuts to the program in the coming fiscal year with a one-time transfer from the state’s general fund to the Transportation Trust Fund. The Senate plan passed last week included this stopgap measure.

However, the spending plan cut nearly $200 million from the Highway User Revenue program in fiscal years 2026 and 2027, with Baltimore taking a $122 million hit over the two-year period. Baltimore gets the majority of program funds because the city is the only locality in Maryland that maintains all of its own roads; the State Highway Administration has other funding mechanisms to assist with road maintenance directly in the state’s 23 counties.

“There is a long track record of the state balancing its budget on the back of Baltimore’s infrastructure,” Mayor Brandon Scott said at a press conference last week, accompanied by several City Council members and other local leaders. Scott decried the outsized impact of the proposed cuts on Baltimore.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

House Democrats seem to be hearing the message.

A more than $1.3 billion revenue package per year — complete with several new transportation-related taxes — backed by House Democratic leaders would restore funding for the highway user revenue program. Both chambers will ultimately have to hash out their differences.

A spokesperson for Scott said Wednesday that the mayor was “very encouraged” by the House counterproposal. “We will continue working diligently to ensure the restoration of HUR is included in the final revised budget,” the statement read.

Doing the math

Maintaining city roads isn’t simple, but it got a little easier years ago when state lawmakers increased the share of transportation funds that went toward highway user revenue.

Here’s how HURs are calculated:

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

  1. Fill the coffers: When you buy gas, register your car with the Motor Vehicle Administration, or pay other transportation taxes and fees — you are paying for transportation projects throughout the state. Some of those fees go into a special gasoline and motor vehicle revenue account.
  2. Divvy it up: A portion of that specific account — part of the Transportation Trust Fund — gets split off into its own HUR pot. That amount is set by state law. The current fiscal year’s pot is 15.6% of the larger revenue account, with the share set to rise to 18% and 20% respectively in the following fiscal years. The state Senate’s proposed cuts do away with the increases in fiscal years 2026 and 2027 and keep the percentage at 15.6%. The Department of Legislative Services recently floated the idea of reducing the figure to as low as 9.6%, the pre-pandemic level.
  3. Divvy it up again: The pot then gets distributed to municipalities, counties and Baltimore through a formula based on lane miles, the physical amount of road surface in a given jurisdiction. And because the State Highway Administration doesn’t patch up any Baltimore roads, the city gets special weight at this step.

All told, Maryland distributed roughly $280 million statewide in highway user revenue in fiscal year 2023, according to SHA documents. The city of Baltimore received $171.5 million.

Prince George’s and Montgomery counties got the next-highest amount, more than $15 million each. In the Baltimore area, Baltimore County received $9.8 million, Anne Arundel County $9.3 million, Harford County $5.3 million and Howard County $4 million.

The statewide total for fiscal 2024 is closer to $334 million.

In fiscal year 2025, which begins July 1, Baltimore City would get $241 million, whereas the rest of the state’s counties and municipalities would get $153 million combined. But come fiscal 2026, the amount would come back down under the Senate proposal.

“Baltimore, we’re able to do more with less, but unfortunately that cannot be a precedent that we will continue working with and that we will respect,” said Corren Johnson, director of the Baltimore Department of Transportation.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

If the proposed cuts take effect after the coming fiscal year, 170 lane miles will go unsurfaced, according to a spokesperson for the city DOT. Potentially affected areas span the cityscape — maintenance on Belair Road, Patterson Park Avenue, Northern Parkway and more would get deferred.

Maryland faces a major budget shortfall in funding transportation needs. As it stands, after fiscal year 2025, all state transportation agencies will have $3 billion less to work with over five years.

Contributing to the budget squeeze is a trend of higher costs and declining gas tax revenue, which has traditionally funded such matters. State officials have also stressed the challenges of meeting commitments to fund Metro and the Purple Line in the Washington, D.C., area, as well as paying for the proposed Red Line that will feature either rapid buses or light rail.

Baltimore isn’t alone in worrying about having the money to fill potholes, either. The State Highway Administration faces a potential loss of roughly $650 million for its share of road maintenance across the rest of the state over five years.

Looking to the out years

When there are gaps in highway user revenue, Baltimore City takes out loans from the state in the form of transportation revenue bonds, Scott said last week.

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Scott and Johnson stressed that fewer local dollars can mean coming up short in doing what’s necessary to unlock federal matches on projects, meaning a cut at the state level could compound. Scott expressed concern that some local projects may then not be able to take advantage of historic levels of federal funding available through the bipartisan infrastructure bill and the Inflation Reduction Act.

“Without a commitment to fully funding the HUR through fiscal [2028], we gut projects that symbolize and represent the hope that we had when this initial bill got passed,” said Scott, referring to state legislation passed years ago that mandated percentage increases in highway user revenue through fiscal 2027. “This will halt our progress overall.”

Jon Laria, a lawyer who chairs the Baltimore Regional Transit Commission, expressed concern not just for the safety implications of less money to fix roads and bridges, but for a knock to the perception and reputation of Baltimore to those who live, work and employ here.

“These cuts, if they succeed, affect the city’s economic climate, they affect its attractiveness to business, they will be barriers to retention and to relocation,” Laria said.

“We are calling for our state leaders to come together with all of us here at the local level to do the tough work of figuring out these issues long-term,” Scott said. “There is no more asphalt to be kicked down the road.”

The Baltimore Banner thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski, Jr. issued a statement echoing Scott’s words, calling for state leaders to “explore long-term, sustainable solutions” for the squeeze facing transportation regionally.

“Significant funding cuts to Maryland’s transportation system adversely impacts access to safe, reliable services that are a fundamental need for so many residents across the entire Baltimore region,” Olszewski said.

Daniel Zawodny covers transportation for the The Baltimore Banner as a corps member with Report For America. He is a Baltimore area native and graduated with his master's degree in journalism from American University in 2021. He is bilingual in English and Spanish and previously covered immigration issues.

More From The Banner