- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Reforming the region’s long-troubled transit agency reached an impasse Wednesday, as Virginia’s governor clashed with the leaders of Maryland and the District over a $500 million annual dedicated funding plan for Metro.

Gov. Terry McAuliffe has said that Virginia will not budge on funding Metro unless its Board of Directors, which currently numbers 16 members, is downsized to a more manageable figure.

That puts him at odds with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who said it would be illegal to overhaul the Metro Board without a lengthy and expensive contract renegotiation. It also pits Mr. McAuliffe against Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans, who says the large panel has been productive and the focus needs to be on Metro’s new funding mechanism.

Former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has suggested eliminating the Metro Board and replacing it with a five-member “reform board” as part of his extensive, months-long review of the transit system.

Mr. McAuliffe commissioned the review in February.

The reform report, which was released officially late Tuesday, calls for $500 million a year in dedicated spending from the three jurisdictions Metro serves.

However, Mr. Hogan, a Republican, is sticking by a proposal he released this fall in which Maryland, Virginia and the District each would contribute $125 million to fund Metro for the next four years.

Mr. McAuliffe, a Democrat, hit back at that idea during a news conference Tuesday, saying four years of funding “does not solve the problem” of Metro needing longer-term financing.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, has offered broad support for Metro reforms in the past, but has said would prefer to fund the $500 million contributions via a regionwide sales tax.

“We would never support a regional sales tax because under a regional sales tax Virginia would pay over 50 percent,” Mr. McAuliffe said Wednesday. “Well, we’re not 50 percent of users.”

Mr. Evans, the Metro Board chairman and the Democratic representative of Ward 2 on the D.C. Council, is siding with Miss Bowser.

“The tax is only in the counties that the Metro runs in,” he told The Washington Times Wednesday.

D.C. Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, at-large Democrat, has said the McAuliffe proposal would demand a disproportionate share of Metro funding from the District.

“We have a smaller share of the region’s population,” Mr. Mendelson said during a legislative briefing Monday. “So to charge the District one-third when we have 15 percent of the population is not fair.”

As for board overhaul, Mr. Hogan has warned that Metro has a complex set of regulations on how the agency is organized that requires time, money and congressional approval to legally renegotiate the board’s structure.

Mr. LaHood responded Wednesday by releasing a memorandum proposing the Metro Board’s 16 members voluntary step down for a five-person reform board to temporarily take charge.

According to the legal opinion, that would circumvent the need to open Metro’s compact.

Mr. Evans objected to the need to overhaul the board, telling The Times that he already had satisfied Mr. LaHood’s reasons for recommending a smaller panel, including reducing the number of committees and meetings and overhauling Metro’s staff this year.

The one thing the region’s leaders agree on is that funding Metro is crucial: This summer, Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld called for $500 million in annual funding by June 2019 for the transit agency to remain safe and reliable.

“If we don’t have that dedicated funding in the future then [Metro] will begin to cut service,” Mr. McAuliffe said Wednesday. “When we begin to cut service it is a death spiral for Metro. You have said goodbye to Metro.”

In addition to dedicated funding, Mr. LaHood’s report also suggests Metro increase its revenue by attracting more riders, advertisements, and by decreasing employee’s pensions.

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