- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 3, 2001

Metro's board, under fire on Capitol Hill for foot-dragging on the renaming of the subway stop at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, is about to dive into another political fracas: D.C. statehood.

D.C. Council member and Metro board member Jim Graham said he's going forward with efforts to install the District's "Taxation Without Representation" protest license plates on city buses.

Mr. Graham said a private donor has offered to cover the $22,000 cost for changing the plates on all 1,445 buses but at least one member of the Metro board and some members of Congress are opposed to the plan.

"Well, if we are to make any reasonable sense against having others name our Metro stations, then we should not be seeking to make strong political statements ourselves," said Fairfax County (Va.) Supervisor Dana Kauffman, a Democrat. "If he brings it to a vote, I will vote no."

Mr. Graham, Ward 1 Democrat, said he expects the Metro board to vote on the license plates on April 19, the same day the board decides whether or not to correct the signs at the airport.

"It's a seemingly small issue that makes an important principle for the District of Columbia," Mr. Graham said yesterday.

Sources said Mr. Graham rejected the idea of installing the tags on buses as each registration expired. Instead, he wants the entire fleet fitted as soon as possible.

Arlington County (Va.) and Metro board member Christopher E. Zimmerman, a Democrat, said he supports the license plate change.

"To me it's not relevant whether it makes a political statement," Mr. Zimmerman said. He pointed out that slogans like New Hampshire's "Live Free or Die" motto make political statements.

But Mr. Zimmerman, who is opposed to renaming the airport station, said the license plate issue shouldn't even have come before the board because the plates are standard issue in the District.

The board postponed a license plate vote on March 15 after Rep. Frank R. Wolf, Virginia Republican, suggested the move wouldn't sit well with some in Congress.

The board already has been criticized by Rep. Bob Barr, a Georgia Republican, who has threatened to withhold federal funds if he didn't see the 40th president's name on the vertical black pylons at all 83 Metro stops and on the agency's maps and literature.

Metro receives no funding from Congress to operate the transit system, but this year got $189 million or roughly 10 percent of its $1.8 billion budget in federal funding for capital projects like buying rail cars and buses, and constructing stations.

The Times reported last week that Mr. Barr has offered a compromise, indicating he would be satisfied if the agency took action to change the signs at the airport station.

President Clinton and Congress approved the new airport name in 1997, and the change took effect the following year on Feb. 6 Mr. Reagan's birthday.

House Majority Leader Rep. Dick Armey threw his support behind Mr. Barr's crusade last week, sending a letter to Metro board Chairman Decatur W. Trotter, a former Maryland state senator and a Democrat.

"I am troubled by reports that partisanship on the part of some Metro board members may have prevented the sign changes from taking place earlier," Mr. Armey wrote in his March 26 letter.

"Please rest assured that I remain interested in seeing to it that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority do its part in honoring Ronald Reagan's legacy."

Sen. George F. Allen, Virginia Republican, said Metro board members are behaving like "foolish children" in resisting the name change, but added Mr. Barr isn't handling the issue well.

"To get into this micromanagement is not appropriate for the federal government," Mr. Allen said.

Matt Raymond, a spokesman for Mr. Allen, said the senator would "look askance" at any attempts to withhold federal funding from Metro.

Meanwhile, the dispute over the license plates which are intended to protest the District's nonvoting status in Congress hasn't escalated to the level of the station-naming brouhaha yet.

Dan Scandling, Mr. Wolf's spokesman, said the Virginia Republican never implied any sort of threat to withhold funding and was only expressing his opinion.

"These buses serve Maryland and Virginia as well, and politics shouldn't be involved in this," Mr. Scandling said. "The Metro buses shouldn't be making a public statement."

Rep. Constance A. Morrella, Maryland Republican and chairman of House Government Reform subcommittee on the District, echoed the warning, telling The Times that Mr. Graham's move would be "unsettling" to some members of Congress.

The license plates were installed on the presidential limousine late last year with President Clinton's blessing and were promptly removed when President George W. Bush took office in January.

Ultimately, the Reagan and license plate debates are "local issues," Mr. Zimmerman said, which should be resolved by members of local boards, not Congress.

"My main feeling is this is something we should not be having conversations with Congress about," Mr. Zimmerman said.

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