- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 28, 2004

The idea of raising the Washington region’s sales tax to fund Metro received a boost yesterday, when the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) lined up in favor of it.

A study panel this month recommended a 0.5 percent sales tax increase earmarked for Metro.

Northern Virginia voters rejected a proposed sales-tax increase in 2002 that would have provided money for mass transit and road improvements. This time around, NVTA Chairman David Snyder thinks things are different.

“As we dug into the public-opinion surveys and other types of information, we’re convinced that a Metro-only sales tax, in fact, would pass” in the jurisdictions served by the transit agency, Mr. Snyder said yesterday.

State lawmakers would have to sign off on any tax increase, but Mr. Snyder said he thinks they can be persuaded.

“When you consider that there are a projected 650,000 more jobs to be created in Northern Virginia within 20 years, supporting those jobs with adequate infrastructure will be critical not only for us, but for the rest of Virginia,” Mr. Snyder said.

“And because jobs in Northern Virginia throw off a lot of tax money that goes to Richmond, it’s frankly within the state’s interest to provide adequate support for infrastructure, or those jobs will simply be outsourced to North Carolina, West Virginia or overseas.”

Unlike many other public transit systems, Metro lacks a dedicated funding source. The cash-strapped transit agency projects a $42 million deficit in 2006 and a $31 million gap in 2007.

New York City subways and the suburban Long Island and Metro-North railroads are subsidized by a special sales tax in their jurisdictions, but that involves a single state. A Washington-region tax means Virginia, Maryland and the D.C. governments must agree.

Mr. Snyder said lawmakers need to rally around the idea, and not use it as “an opportunity to open up a lot of other issues … that would further complicate the urgent need to move forward on this.”

Increasing delays and breakdowns, overcrowded trains and back-to-back fare increases last year and this year have left many Metro riders fed up. Metro Chief Executive Officer Richard A. White said in October that much of the criticism directed at agency management “has been deserved.”

So should Metro be trusted with more tax money?

“The management issues are out in the open, they’re being worked on by the board of directors of Metro, and they need to solve those issues,” Mr. Snyder said.

But he said “that shouldn’t be used to deflect attention” from the fact that “Metro simply needs more money in order to maintain itself.”

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