Metro, union, nonprofit and business leaders are speaking in one accord to urge lawmakers to approve more funding for the second-busiest transit agency in the nation.
Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld has explained to officials in the District, Maryland, Virginia and the federal government at least $500 million next fiscal year to improve safety and reliability.
On the same day Wiedefeld repeated that message last week with Maryland lawmakers before the House Appropriations Committee, lawmakers in the Virginia Senate approved $154 million toward Metro. The bill will now be reviewed by the House Appropriations Committee.
“When you look at the development that is taken place in Northern Virginia and across the D.C. region, it is all following Metro,” said Jim Corcoran, CEO and president of the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce and member of Metro’s board of directors. “Making sure we have a great operating system is critical to people who want to have their workforce … delivered via mass transportation.”
Lawmakers in the Virginia General Assembly have until the session’s March 10 end date to approve the Metro funding. In addition, officials in Maryland and D.C. must also agree to provide money to the transit agency.
Maryland lawmakers still have time, but the last day of session is April 9.
The D.C. Council meets year-round, so its proposal to raise more Metro money through a 0.75 percent sales tax could receive approval after it’s done in Maryland and Virginia.
The fourth party, the federal government, released a proposed $4.4 trillion budget this month that proposes to decrease its $150 million portion for Metro to $120 million. Some Metro supporters are leery of the Trump administration’s belief in mass transit in the D.C. region.
The agency, also known as the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, doesn’t receive dedicated funding.
“I am beyond disappointed that the Trump administration chose to cut funding for Metro in its FY 2019 budget,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Virginia) said in a statement. “Especially at a time when most of our area delegation is fighting for the federal government to double its contribution and pay its fair share for the transit system that delivers more than 100,000 federal employees to work each day.”
Several people who testified in Annapolis before the House Appropriations Committee suggested lawmakers put up $167 million, a three-way split between Virginia and D.C.
The current legislation sponsored by Delegate Marc Korman of Montgomery County proposes at least $125 million comes from the state’s transportation trust fund toward capital cost for Metro.
Delegate Maggie McIntosh of Baltimore City, who chairs the Appropriations Committee, said she didn’t receive one letter in opposition.
“It does show what can be accomplished when you work together and you communicate,” said Jackie Jeter, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689, Metro’s largest union. “That’s the crux of this. When we are all in favor of something, we can all come together.”
During the Feb. 13 hearing in Annapolis, a couple of Republican delegates suggested requesting a sales tax for businesses that open near Metro. ATU Local 689 presented a similar plan last year.
Delegate Jeff Ghrist, a Republican who represents portions of Western Maryland, said motorists shouldn’t pay for mass transit, especially since they rarely use it, if at all.
“Would you guys support a specialized tax dedicated to improving mass transit?” he said to a group testifying.
“Our position today is we take care of WMATA,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of D.C.-based Coalition for Smarter Growth. “It’s up to the policy makers to figure out the mechanism to do that. We’re saying it’s urgent to do that.”