- The Washington Times - Monday, January 8, 2018

Local businesses and nonprofits joined forces Monday to call for dedicated funding for Metro.

Calling itself MetroNow, the coalition plans to advocate to the District, Maryland, Virginia and the federal government for funding, but its members don’t yet have a plan for resolving regional leaders’ differences over providing $500 million a year to the troubled transit system.

“Coalition leaders believe failure to fully address Metro’s funding and governance crisis is not an option,” the group said in a press release.

MetroNow comprises two-dozen nonprofit and business groups. One member is the Federal City Council, which hosted the original planning discussions for Metrorail in the 1950s. Emeka Moneme, deputy executive director for Federal City Council, said MetroNow “has been a long-term effort over the last several years.”

“The underpinning issue is here is what regional cooperation looks like,” said Mr. Moneme, referring to the contentious funding negotiations over the past few months between regional leaders.

Michael Forehand spoke for another MetroNow member, the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce, saying that Metro funding “is critical to our members — 650-plus businesses across Northern Virginia.”

“I don’t think there’s anything right now that has a larger regional impact than Metro,” Mr. Forehand, the chamber’s vice president of government affairs, told The Washington Times.

MetroNow has enjoyed a positive reception from regional leaders, such as Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans.

Mr. Evans told The Times that he’s “very happy about” the coalition and that he’s worked to “push the business community to get involved for a long time.”

“The hard work is in the leg work,” said Mr. Evans, who also represents Ward 2 on the D.C. Council.

The coalition will need to take up the case for dedicated Metro funding to the elected executives and lawmakers in its three districts for a real impact, he added.

Mr. Forehand expressed confidence that MetroNow will be able to execute.

“We have teams to advocate for finding a solution to reform governance, smaller board, less of the political challenges in the current board,” he told The Times. “And also the funding portion with $500 million regionally in a bonded manner.”

According to its press release, MetroNow advocates for three main goals:

That the federal government commits annual funding to Metro operations. Currently, the federal government provides $150 million a year for the transit agency’s capital budget.

That the Metro Board of Directors is downsized and reorganized, per the recommendations in the recent Metro reform report by former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

That Virginia, Maryland and the District each commit their “fair share” of the $500 million dollar Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld says is needed to stabilize the transit agency.

However, when it comes to how MetroNow plans to advocate divvying up that $500 million among the three jurisdictions, the future is murky.

“We’re not going to direct a single solution,” Mr. Forehand said.

“It’s not 100 percent clear to anyone what the situation looks like,” Mr. Moneme said.

Outgoing Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has proffered splitting the $500 million equally, with each jurisdiction paying about $160 million a year.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and the D.C. Council have rejected that proposal, saying D.C. residents — who account for only 15 percent of the region’s population — would foot a disproportionate amount of the cost. They have proposed a regional sales tax to fund Metro.

And Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has called for each jurisdiction to pay $125 million for the next four years until the Metro Board is reformed.

Mr. Wiedefeld has said that Metro will need the $500 million by June 2019, otherwise the agency will begin to cut service.

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