By on November 8, 2009


Among the 15,000 Maryland state employees who drive on area toll roads without paying are judges, lawmakers and powerful bureaucrats. The Maryland Politics Watch website used a freedom of information request in August to discover that 128 of 188 legislators took advantage of a perquisite giving officials a scrutiny and bill-free E-ZPass transponder—despite already receiving a $600 yearly travel expense allowance from taxpayers. After being exposed, the General Assembly leadership moved to limit the fallout by abruptly canceling the program on September 25.

“Currently, many members of the General Assembly have non-revenue E-ZPass accounts or E-ZPass accounts with non-revenue accommodations,” Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller (D) and House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D) wrote. “This recession requires us to find efficiencies and reduce unnecessary spending wherever possible; therefore, we have asked the Maryland Transportation Authority (MdTA) to terminate the non-revenue E-ZPass program for the legislative branch. Individual lawmakers will continue to be eligible to submit for reimbursement for tolls incurred on official legislative travel.”

When Maryland Politics Watch informally attempted to learn the names of the politicians driving on toll roads at taxpayer expense, the MdTA initially claimed “privacy and security” concerns prevented disclosure. The agency then wrote to lawmakers informing them of the inquiry, allowing fifty-six lawmakers to cancel their accounts to avoid embarrassment before a formal request for the list of names was granted.

Authority to issue the free rides came from section 6.15 of the MdTA’s contract with bond holders, a document that received little public scrutiny. The hidden provision applies to, “officials and employees of the executive, legislative and judicial departments of the state.” Ambulances and other emergency vehicles also receive a special transponder that allows free passage.

Maryland Politics Watch author Adam Pagnucco slammed Democrats for taking advantage of the system.

“Delegate Ben Kramer (D-19) is a millionaire developer who has dumped $220,450 of his own money into his last two political campaigns,” Pagnucco wrote. “Does he really need a free E-ZPass? [In Montgomery County] one of our Senators and thirteen of our twenty-four delegates drive toll-free, including some of our most liberal members. We get no moral high ground this time.”

Pagnucco was equally harsh with the GOP.

“Fifteen of the fifty Republicans in the General Assembly carry free E-ZPasses,” Pagnucco wrote. “This is the worst hypocrisy of all. Over and over again, the Republicans have called for big spending cuts while jealously guarding their E-ZPerks.”

Last month, Senate Minority Leader Allan H. Kittleman (R) asked the Court of Appeals Chief Judge Robert M. Bell whether the judicial branch planned to give up free rides for judges.


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9 Comments on “Maryland: Politicians, Judges, Bureaucrats Drive Toll Free...”

  • avatar

    In the USSR where everyone was equal (!) they had reserved beaches for the Party officials and other beachess for Comrade citizens.

    In Animal Farm all animals were equal except the pigs were “more equal” than the others.

    The Government is a monopoly. It has few strong levers for disclosure, accountability and prosecution of the corrupt or incompetent. So cosseted or corrupt public officials and representatives take the mick and all too often, get away with it.

    Congrats to Adam Pagnucco for being so determined. He’s made a small scratch in a colossal problem.

  • avatar

    The real question will be whether or not these same folks will actually pay (or even be assessed) fines from the speed cameras that are popping up everywhere in (the People’s Republic of) Maryland due to their loose definition of school/construction zones.

  • avatar

    So they took away the E-ZPass but “Individual lawmakers will continue to be eligible to submit for reimbursement for tolls incurred on official legislative travel” despite the fact that they already get a $600 per year travel expense allowance. Don’t see much of a difference. So they save their toll receipts and claim them to get reimbursed. I see no win here for the taxpayer. The politicians only need to claim that travel was for “official” reasons. Not that hard. Going to the Capital? Official business. Going home? Well their going to conduct “Official Business” in their district, etc. I’m curious how the accounting works. When a politician gets reimbursed for money he payed to MdTA in tolls, that comes out of the taxpayer’s wallet. With the “non-revenue E-ZPass accounts or E-ZPass accounts with non-revenue accommodations” was the state paying MdTA for that lost revenue? And why is it necessary to install E-ZPass devices in emergency vehicles? Are the state, or other local governments paying MdTA for that as well? Otherwise why go to the expense of outfitting emergency vehicles with transponders. It wouldn’t surprise me. Bureaucrats just love to quibble over who is paying for what.

  • avatar

    I fail to see what the problem with allowing government officials free EZ-pass travel was. It’s not as if allowing the free travel was actually costing taxpayers anything, they weren’t paying the tolls for the legislators, the tolls just weren’t being collected at all.

    Having lived and worked in the mid-atlantic region for a number of years in the past, the mess of tolls is the real WTF. If we expect lawmakers and officials to drive around on official business, shouldn’t their travel expenses be paid? No decent private sector business expects its employees to pay for work related travel expenses out of their own pockets.

  • avatar

    The problem was officials could use their government funded freebie EZ-pass for personal travel. If they are on public business let them collect receipts and submit expense reports just like the rest of us in the private sector do.

  • avatar
    johnny ro

    Now they cant give the free transponder to their kid headed off to college to use for the semester.

    They can only get free rides themselves by putting through a pathetic time/travel report that costs more to prepare than the reimbursement.

    Your tax dollars at work.

  • avatar

    Please define Official Legislative Travel and then charge them with theft for violating it. We don’t get to pawn off our toll charges when we use toll roads for work, why should they?

    I think all people should be able to deduct their tolls on tax day. I bet some people would love to write off 600 to 1000 dollars a year for taking a bridge or some highway that’s unavoidably between them and the office.

    “No decent private sector business expects its employees to pay for work related travel expenses out of their own pockets.”

    How about when they go to work in the first place? I don’t draw a distinction here. Tolls work wonderfully for fleecing tourists and other occasional drivers but daily commuters face an additional tax.

  • avatar

    NulloModo, you missed the phrase “a scrutiny and bill-free E-ZPass transponder”. [emphasis supplied] Not only were the big shots getting free a service for which they already got a lump-sum travel allowance, the system was rigged to keep anyone from determining how much (or when or where) free service they got. Accountability? That’s for the little people.

    Oklahoma has a quaint provision in its constitution that severely penalizes officials who accept free passes from railroads. All that’s left here of rail travel is one silly Amtrak route but the principle is still valid.

    I worked for and around politicians quite a while. My motto is “the better you know them, the less you like them.”

  • avatar

    My motto is “the better you know them, the less you like them.”

    Very true. I met a politician a few years ago who really impressed me. Like Obama, he gives a good speech. But I’ve gotten to know him fairly well, and I’m no longer impressed. Far from it.

    A friend of mine knows Nancy Pelosi quite well. He says the same about her. She cares little about the country. Or even about the Democratic party. She cares just about herself.

    Politicians are just like the rest of us. But those who survive the Darwinian struggle to gain, and remain in, high office tend to have highly developed traits that are not admirable. One of those traits is feeding like pigs at the public trough.

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