Almost everyone agrees WMATA needs funding

Momentum is growing for dedicated revenue, and possibly associated reforms, for the struggling Metro system. A group of 21 business associations issued a statement last week calling for action to save Metro. So did 18 nonprofit organizations. And so have five local faith-based organizing groups and Metro’s largest union.

Will legislators follow?

The faith-based push came from the Industrial Areas Foundation, a network of local faith-based and community organizations each of which has a clever acronym: Washington Interfaith Network (WIN), Action in Montgomery (AIM), Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD), People Acting Together in Howard (PATH), and Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagements (VOICE). The five IAF affiliates teamed up with ATU Local 689 to push for $1 billion a year in new dedicated funding for Metro.

Last week, the Federal City Council, a DC-based group of business leaders, teamed up with the Greater Washington Board of Trade, five other business groups, and 14 chambers of commerce to issue a letter calling for ongoing funding and reforms. In addition to “multi-year commitments … for operating funds,” “a dedicated source for capital funding,” and “a continuing funding commitment from the federal government,” the business letter asks for reforms to WMATA’s governance, in line with what the Federal City Council has been pushing for. (Disclosure: FCC’s deputy director and leader on Metro, Emeka Moneme, is a member of the GGWash Board of Directors).

The business letter recommends shrinking the number of directors on the board, requiring expertise in a relevant field, and a rule that the “sole fiduciary duty” of board members be to WMATA. People have criticized the way members sometimes push for procurements or real estate deals which benefit their particular jurisdictions, and even create opportunities for corruption. It’s likely that elected officials, which make up some of DC’s and Virginia’s board members (but not Maryland’s, per state law) would not be able to sit on the board under such a rule.

Besides the chambers of commerce of DC, Virginia, Northern Virginia, Arlington County, Prince William, Greater Springfield, Greater Reston, Greater McLean, Maryland, Montgomery County, Prince George’s, Greater Bethesda, Greater Silver Spring, and the Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, other signatories to the letter include 2030 Group, the Apartment and Office Building Association, the Consortium of Universities, and the DC Building Industry Association.

Nonprofit organizations, including many that work on transportation and the environment, have teamed up as well with their own statement. Led by the Coalition for Smarter Growth, they endorsed a “fund it, fix it” statement of principles which calls for dedicated funding, frequent transit service, and bus priority with dedicated bus lanes where possible.

That group includes Maryland organizations CASA, Action Committee for Transit, the Maryland Center on Economic Policy, League of Women Voters Montgomery County, Friends of White Flint, and the Montgomery Countryside Alliance; the Virginia Conservation Network, Northern Virginia Affordable Housing Alliance, Piedmont Environmental Council, Fairfax Advocates for Better Bicycling, and the Arlington Coalition for Sensible Transportation; the Sierra Club chapters and groups in DC, Virginia, Montgomery County, and Great Falls; the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Washington Area Bicyclist Association.

The League of Women Voters of the National Capital Area (an umbrella group of all LWVs in the area), 1000 Friends of Maryland, and Central Maryland Transportation Alliance also joined for an announcement issued Monday from the nonprofits.

In the public sector, there have been funding calls and reform plans from WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld, a group of Maryland legislators, ATU Local 689, and a working group from the Council of Governments.

Who’s not here?

At this point, with advocacy, environmental, business, faith, and about every other policy organization in DC, Maryland, and Virginia agreeing about much of what WMATA needs, the question becomes, who’s not on board?

So far, some Virginia legislators still aren’t. Some in Loudoun County still want more study and feel Loudoun shouldn’t have to pay even more after just joining WMATA formally (and not even having any stations yet). It’s sort of like buying into a condo and then being hit with a big assessment to fix the roof. But is the alternative to let the roof collapse?

Loudoun may try to negotiate a different funding commitment, and that’s really up to Virginia to work out internally. One way or another, though, Metro needs funding and appropriate reform.

Virginia legislators outside Northern Virginia may be the toughest sell, as many downstate delegates don’t ride transit and have signed anti-tax pledges which include not allowing Northern Virginia to raise its own taxes, even if there’s no impact outside the region.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has said he won’t stand in the way of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties taxing themselves to fund Metro, but won’t help out of the state budget. This despite pulling money away from those counties to build more roads in rural parts of the state right after taking office. The Baltimore area, which was most robbed by Hogan’s cancellation of the Red Line, may want to know how it can fund needed transit as well.

But whether it’s a 1% sales tax or another method; whatever deal has to be worked out with the rest of Virginia and Maryland; the calls within all quarters of our region for some action to save Metro are getting louder and louder. The need is clear.

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