- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 21, 2017

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

When one of the region’s most respected lawmakers calls, you answer the phone.

“There is no Plan B” for shoring up and sustaining Metro, Board Chairman Jack Evans told me Thursday morning.

“We need $25 billion. We need a big chunk of money. We need $650 million a year. We need to leverage it. We need to have a dedicated source.

“The 1 cent [proposed] sales tax means we take that money and put it in a ‘lock box.’

“There is no Plan B.”

Well, folks, that’s the plan for the D.C. region’s mass transit system, which had been stumbling for so long along so many tracks that even Mr. Evans, who became Metro chairman in 2016, had to concede that the lack of planning was a chief reason you “have the system you have.”

And what a system: It went from a safe, cost-efficient, highly touted rail and bus system in 1976 to the poorly managed, pray-as-you-go fractured system of today.

When Mr. Evans and General Manager Paul Wiedefeld took the reins, some things turned around, to be sure. And, to be frank, when Mr. Evans talks money, ears should perk up because he is the most fiscally conservative Democrat around these parts.

However, asking American taxpayers from Alaska to New England to the tip of Florida and beyond to fund one transit system doesn’t seem quite fair. And to ask the public to do so without genuine public input doesn’t seem quite right either.

First of all, Mr. Evans and Mr. Weidefeld don’t agree on a dollar figure for Metro’s needs. One glaring example is that Mr. Weidefeld put the cost at an estimated $15 billion, a full $10 billion shy of Mr. Evans.

To his credit, though, Mr. Evans did cite three key arguments to support the new tax proposal.

1) The use of Metro means fewer vehicles are on the roads.

2) Fewer vehicles means less pollution.

3) During its 40-year history, Metro has contributed $10 billion to the region’s economy.

So, one by one:

1) Even with the new sales tax, regional motorists and the companies that pay and reimburse their transportation expenses would still pay the heftier prices.

2) Cleaner emissions already contribute to cleaner air.

3) Metro blew its $10 billion regional economy contribution when it failed year after year to raise fares, clear its own internal weeds and transform Metro into a true pay-as-you-go system.

Moreover, Mr. Evans is exposing the good cop/bad cop politics of mass transit policy.

Mr. Evans wants a 1 cent dedicated sales tax. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser suggests a half-cent. Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who is about to exit stage left, licked his pointer finger and tossed it to the wind. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, who’s posing for re-election in 2018, says no new tax and no increases for Metro, but in the meantime, Maryland will commit to $500 million over four years if D.C., Virginia and the federal government do the same.

Mr. Evans knows as well as anyone that taxes start at one decimal point, but progressive politics changes the digits.

The carnival barkers’ call for state lotteries to “fund public education” is the perfect example.

If Mr. McAuliffe, one of the Democratic Party’s most persuasive barkers, and Mr. Hogan, a GOPer seeking re-election who, just a day ago, announced a slew of new road and transportation projects for motorists, aren’t biting the new tax plan, Capitol Hill, the Trump administration, taxpayers and lawmakers shouldn’t either.

The District can’t hide itself on this one, and the federal government shouldn’t hunt around for another pail of money to pitch.

Perhaps Metro’s minds should sit down with Maryland’s minds and find out how Mr. Hogan pulled off a coup for Marylanders and their D.C. and Virginia neighbors who motor day in and out.

Metro should then brush special interests aside and make a direct pitch to the general public.

Deborah Simmons can be contacted at [email protected]

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