- The Washington Times - Monday, October 31, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Dear Gov. Larry Hogan,

I’m appealing to you on behalf of taxpayers who are not necessarily mass transit-dependent yet are hopeful that you will continue to hold tight the reins on public coffers, especially those under the purview of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), or more commonly called Metro.

Time is of the essence.

The general manager of Metro, Paul Wiedefeld, is trimming staff and is considering trimming rail and bus services, and repositioning the D.C. region’s chief mass transit agency in the financial and political markets.

Expectations for Mr. Wiedefeld, who joined Metro last year, were that he would be a change agent — and because he has to please eight bosses, none of his tasks is going to be easy.

His bosses, as you know, are the Metro Board; the Obama administration (for now); Congress; the governments of D.C., Maryland and Virginia; the public at large and the unions — and they all are applying pressure on Metro at the same time.

I’m sure that you, as a governor, can relate: Mr. Wiedefeld can please some of them some of the time, but he cannot please all of them all of the time. That is the reality.

So Metro officials must prioritize. Do they want Metro to be the one-size-fits-all behemoth that still ignores safety, security and growing pains? Or does it want to be a world-class regional system that looks beyond merely getting passengers from Point A to Point B?

Currently, a “yes” answer to the former question is generating the most pressure — and that’s where you come in, Gov. Hogan.

In the 2014 gubernatorial race, voters in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties rejected your bid for office, and this year both stand to reap financial gains — Montgomery, with the spanking-new premier outlet stores in Clarksburg, and Prince George’s, with the opening this winter of the MGM casino. The timing is perfect.

The new incoming windfalls position officials in both jurisdictions to rethink their constituents’ contributions to Metro, whose core is and should remain the District.

Both jurisdictions, however, need some nudging from you, Annapolis and Maryland’s congressional delegations — the very state and national leaders who control the purse strings.

For his part, Mr. Wiedefeld eyeballed Metro’s problems in its capital and operations budgets, reviewed its spending obligations and cued up the crystal ball, and all three are maxxed out. To help ease the pressure (or should I say pressures?), he has put forth several proposals including raising fares and curbing Metrorail and Metrobus services, among other things.

(My colleague Ryan McDermott gave a full accounting of the Wiedefeld proposal in Monday’s editions and online.)

Governor, you appear to be on the same page as federal authorities, who are reluctant to open the spigots on public coffers or, as you aptly said, “throw good money after bad.”

Mr. Wiedefeld is expected to make his austerity pitch on Thursday to Metro’s board. Spotlighting your position on Metro funding could go a long way toward shedding light on where your state stands.

Keep in mind as well that Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III has long publicly committed new revenue from casino gambling to education. However, his county does not have a school funding problem as much as it has a school personnel problem.

Meanwhile, Montgomery County remains a booming jurisdiction, thanks in part to the I-270 high-tech corridor, which just welcomed the new retail outlets in Clarksburg. Both counties should ante up for Metro.

Again, Governor, I cite your own words as a strident reminder: “We’re not opposed to mass transit, but we do oppose wasteful and irresponsible spending on poorly conceived projects that waste taxpayers’ money.”

Metro is obviously wasteful and irresponsible, and Mr. Wiedefeld is putting in considerable time and effort to be the change agent of both.

Here’s hoping you voice your support for the general direction of the Wiedefeld plan, even if you don’t get into the weeds, as they say, about the details.

Thank you.

Deborah Simmons can be contacted at [email protected]

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