The decisions we make impact real lives. As I represent Northeast and East Baltimore in the Maryland Senate, my constituents constantly remind me of the consequences of those decisions in social media posts, encounters in public places and through emails or calls to my office.
In 2020 and 2021, the General Assembly took a visionary step forward, adopting a resolute One Maryland approach to tackle the challenges of public transportation. This commitment manifested through pivotal legislative acts. In 2020, Sen. Brian Feldman and Del. Marc Korman led the Maryland Metro Transit/Funding Act. I, along with Sen. Craig Zucker and then Del. Brooke Lierman, followed with the Transportation Safety Investment Act in 2021.
Together, we secured funding for crucial entities such as the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Maryland Transit Administration, Purple Line construction and the Maryland Area Regional Commuter service. The work was not easy, but our collective effort and One Maryland approach aimed to create a cohesive strategy for funding both the operational and capital infrastructure of public transit projects in Maryland. Our actions ensured that even the most vulnerable individuals seeking transit options for work, school and needed services were not forgotten.
Regrettably, in December 2023, the Maryland Department of Transportation, under the leadership of Secretary Paul Wiedefeld, announced proposed budget cuts totaling $3.3 billion, as outlined in its Maryland Consolidated Transportation Program Overview for fiscal years 2024 through 2029. Alarming and unbalanced, these cuts disproportionately affect Baltimore. The draft proposal submitted by MDOT sets regions against each other, burdening Baltimore with the lion’s share of the fiscal challenges.
This divisive approach mirrors past patterns seen in public safety, education and voting rights — offering no real solutions for those challenges faced by the city. Once again, we find ourselves grappling with transportation, where Baltimore seems an easy target for resource removal, further compounding disadvantages instead of building on strengths.
While I have confidence in the legislature’s ability to negotiate with the administration and rectify these disparities and cuts, it’s crucial to underscore that the proposed cuts should never have been released in their current form, as they unequivocally lack the One Maryland approach our state needs.
Historically, Baltimore has been a vulnerable target for hasty decisions across these various sectors. It’s imperative for our leaders to remember that behind these ill-informed decisions are real faces and real stories they may never see.
Recently, I received an email applauding my efforts to speak out against the proposed cuts from a Baltimorean who graduated from Baltimore City College High School and Goucher College and now serves in local government. His story exemplifies the far-reaching impacts of transportation decisions, as the commuter bus from East Baltimore to the State House in Annapolis was his sole means of interning for the Maryland General Assembly during the 90-day legislative session.
These personal stories are essential reminders that our conversations about opportunity must start with intentional transportation investments, as an inadequate transportation system directly affects job opportunities, K-12 educational and access to tackling poverty.
If the narrative of this young scholar isn’t compelling enough, consider the stark example of the emergency light rail shutdown within 72 hours of MDOT’s proposed $3.3 billion budget cuts. This abrupt halt was a consequence of years of neglect. The legislature took decisive action in 2021 by passing the Transportation Safety Investment Act, overriding Gov. Larry Hogan’s veto.
The budget cuts proposed in 2023 threaten to stall progress within Baltimore’s regional transportation system while exacerbating an already strained capital needs backlog. In these critical moments, I implore those of us in leadership to reflect on the young scholars at Mergenthaler, Baltimore Polytechnic, and our other high schools; the single mother or father striving to reach their workplace; and the college student commuting to class or with an interest in public service. A united commitment to a comprehensive and equitable transportation strategy for Maryland is an urgent need in 2024.
In closing, my New Year’s Resolution for 2024 is that we begin to engage in conscious conversations about disproportionate cuts that impact those trying to break the cycles of poverty and remember those whose needs are underserved.
Cory McCray represents Maryland Senate District 45, which encompasses Northeast Baltimore and East Baltimore.