- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Local officials soon will be asked to consider a regional sales tax to fund Metro, and the amount being discussed is higher than had been reported.

Metro’s blue-ribbon panelplans to release its initial report online Friday. The panel is tasked with recommending a dedicated funding source for the cash-strapped transit agency.

A half-percent regional sales tax for the District, Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland was discussed at earlier meetings.

But yesterday, former Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority Director James A. Wilding suggested raising the sales tax by three-quarters of a percent.

Mr. Wilding said the additional money would solve continuing budget shortfalls and also could allow local governments to cut their subsidies to Metro.

“Don’t be timid. If you can solve the problem, go ahead and solve it,” said Mr. Wilding, urging members to brave the political heat. “I think we’re in the right church, but the wrong pew. We’re talking about a very minor difference that would make a major difference at the end of the day.”

Several other members, including Kenneth Klinge from Alexandria, agreed that their report should at least give lawmakers that option, although he said a sales tax may be difficult for them to pass.

“The chances of getting a sales tax through the Virginia legislature in the near future are slim and zero,” Mr. Klinge said.

Rudolph Penner of the Urban Institute, who heads the panel, agreed with members who are concerned that a sales tax will be seen as a regressive tax. On the other hand, he said, no funding for Metro is not an option.

“If we do nothing, the downward spiral is almost inevitable,” Mr. Penner said of Metro, which projects a $304 million a year capital- and operating-budget shortfall between 2006 and 2015.

John Hill with the Federal City Council, a nonpartisan group that seeks to improve the nation’s capital, said he thinks the sales-tax recommendation “will have business community support.”

“This has been on our radar screen,” he said.

Although the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority hasn’t reviewed the latest additions to the report, its chairman, David Snyder, said the panel has done “exactly what we hoped it would do,” which was to make a clear tax recommendation.

The panel will take public comments and issue a final report on Jan. 6.

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