See below for our Northern Virginia Advocacy Manager, Sonya Breehey, testifying before the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors on behalf of CSG and Fairfax Healthy Communities regarding the FY22 budget.
MARYLAND — Reports today indicate that Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has initially retained state funding for the long-planned for Purple Line in his first state budget. Based on those reports, Coalition for Smarter Growth Executive Director Stewart Schwartz applauded the decision in the following statement: “We were pleased to see that both Purple Line and Red Line funding remaining in Governor Hogan’s first Maryland budget. The Purple Line is a good deal for Maryland, good for jobs, good for the economy and good for commuters.
Transportation interest groups from around the state formed a coalition that they hope will influence state lawmakers’ budget priorities.
The Coalition for Smarter Growth and about 20 other organizations from Bethesda to Baltimore are pushing for the state to increase funding for transportation. They formed “Get Maryland Moving” on Feb. 19, hoping to make a bigger impact on budget decisions.
Leaders of Get Maryland Moving warn that without a source of new revenue, critical projects like the Purple Line and Corridor Cities Transitway could be delayed for years.
One of the new coalition’s members is Purple Line Now!, a Montgomery County and Prince George’s County alliance of local organizations that support the 16-mile light-rail project.
The Purple Line would connect Metro’s Red Line at the Bethesda station to the Green Line at New Carrollton and is estimated to cost about $2.1 billion. Without state funding, however, the Purple Line will not be built, County Councilmember George L. Leventhal said.
The Maryland Department of Transportation has started designing the light-rail line, but the state has not dedicated funds to build it.
“Our campaign right now is to get transportation funding,” Purple Line Now! President Ralph Bennett said. His organization first started working with the Coalition for Smarter Growth — a Washington, D.C.-based organization dedicated to transit-oriented communities — last year.
“We came to the realization that we couldn’t get very far [by ourselves],” Bennett said. Purple Line Now! sends emails to constituents to encourage them to support their cause and meet with legislators. But, now that they are part of Get Maryland Moving, they can cast a wider net to look for support, he said.
Get Maryland Moving plans to make its case in Annapolis on March 6 by making fake gravestones for a major transportation project in every jurisdiction of the state, according to Bennett.
“If we don’t get funding,” he said, “all of those projects will die.”
The Greater Bethesda Chevy Chase Chamber of Commerce is also a member of Get Maryland Moving.
“Transportation has always been a top priority for us, and the Purple Line is it,” said the chamber’s president and CEO, Ginanne Italiano. “Our concern is it’s wasted taxpayer dollars if they don’t finish the job and get the funding going.”
Italiano said transportation funding is at a “critical point,” and Get Maryland Moving is what’s necessary to gain support. The chamber is planning to ask its members to come to Annapolis and talk to legislators about what they want for the Purple Line.
“With the sequester happening, it’s vital,” she said.
Addressing a friendly audience this afternoon at the Commonwealth Transportation Board, Governor Bob McDonnell plugged his transportation financing plan, arguing that it was “economically sound, politically viable” and will “fix the problem.”
“Our problem is a math problem,” the governor said. “Revenues are on a downward path and the cost of asphalt is on an upward path.” Within a few years, $500 million a year will be diverted from the state’s construction fund to pay for maintenance.
“I’ve used every asset I can find” that the General Assembly has made available to him, McDonnell said. He has audited VDOT four times. He has issued bonds. He has tapped the General Fund budget surplus. He has leveraged state dollars through tolled Public Private Transportation projects. Now the options are exhausted and the state needs new revenue.
McDonnell has proposed a five-point plan: (1) scrapping the motor fuels tax (except on diesel) and boosting the sales tax by 0.8%, a revenue source that will increase as the economy grows; (2) diverting 0.25% of existing sales tax revenue from the General Fund to transportation; (3) charging an extra $15 per year for vehicle registrations; and (4) charging alternative-fuel vehicles $100 per year, and (5) collecting taxes on online sales.
As people shift to more fuel-efficient automobiles and alternate-fuel vehicles, the governor said, the gasoline tax is not a viable long-term revenue source. “Relying on the state gas tax will only make the funding situation worse because the gas tax buying power has greatly depleted over the years. Switching to the state sales tax is the reasonable and logical solution to fund projects.”
Underlining the governor’s remarks, John Lawson, chief financial officer of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) told the CTB that his five-year revenue forecast had become significantly more pessimistic over the past year. Compared to last year’s five year forecast (2013-2018), the amount of revenue available to VDOT over the next five years (2014-2019) is $766 million less. State revenue is expected to decline $218 million while federal revenue will plummet $548 million. Those numbers do not take into account added revenues from the governor’s tax plan, which, in enacted, would raise an estimated $1.8 billion over the same period.
Between direct funding reductions and a delay to bond issues, that means the state will have $700 million less to spend on new roads, bridges and highways than expected. Even previous to Lawson’s revelation, the McDonnell administration had been saying that the state would run out of state construction funding within four to five years.
Touting the sales tax component of his plan as a first for the country, McDonnell said. The sales tax “is predictable, it’s reliable and it grows.”
A wide array of business and labor groups have endorsed McDonnell’s plan, as have key Republican legislators. Democrats have been relatively quiet, although some have expressed concerns about the idea of siphoning money from the General Fund, which would come at the expense of schools, health care and other priorities. Conservatives have expressed suspicion of anything resembling a tax increase. Free-market advocates have argued that the shift away from the user-pays gas tax would subsidize driving. And smart growth advocates have slammed the bill for that reason and others.
Before approving another $1.8 billion in spending over the next five years, said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, in response to the governor’s remarks, the General Assembly should take a close look at how McDonnell is spending the $3 billion it authorized for to borrow. The U.S. 460 Connector between Suffolk and Petersburg, costing more than $1 billion in public dollars, has a very low cost-benefit ratio compared to projects going begging in other parts of the state, he said. What assurance is there, he asked, that new tax revenues won’t be similarly wasted?
Photo courtesy of James Bacon.
The Coalition for Smarter Growth supports the supplemental request by the County Executive for $1 million to further advance the proposed Rapid Transit System. We believe that the request is focused on the important implementation issues including service planning, integration with RideOn and Metrobus, bike/ped access, transit signal prioritization, organizational structure and agreements with the state on the right of way. We also have some recommendations, which include ensuring integration with Purple Line and Metrorail service.
We understand the position of our long-time allies at the Action Committee for Transit, and their recommendation that the county first move forward with WMATA’s bus priority corridor network. Yet, we believe that a win-win approach is possible. The outlines of an expanded, integrated, higher capacity and speedier transit network are becoming apparent. It is a system that includes a rehabilitated Metrorail and robust transit-oriented development at all stations on both arms of the Red Line, includes construction of the Purple Line, and includes the most promising of the Phase I Rapid Transit System routes and also integration with the WMATA Priority Corridor Network.
We will all depend on the technical staffs to give us something that works effectively and selects the most effective service mode, not just for today, but for the evolving transit-oriented future, meeting the goal of a much more robust and transformative transit network for the county. Therefore, we believe that the funding should also enable close coordination between the county staff, Planning Board staff, WMATA and state officials to design this interconnected and operationally integrated system.
To gain maximum benefit from this funding, these agencies should deliver to the County Executive and to you a consensus system design that is appropriately tailored to each corridor in terms of mode and level of service, and, is closely linked to walkable, transit-oriented development where that development is appropriate. By the end of these studies, the technical experts should be able to give you a system that has drawn from the research and data available in the Task Force report, in the Planning Board’s staff report, the ITDP report, the state transit studies and WMATA, including their Priority Corridor Network.
It should be a system that seamlessly links fares, schedules, routes and transfers, and delivers significant increases in ridership of both transit-dependent and the so-called “choice riders.” It should be a system that transforms the county and enhances the movement of people, their access to jobs and services, and increases the economic competitiveness of the county.
As you know, Fairfax County is investing in the Silver Line. But they, like you, are also engaged in a study of their next generation of transit investments including BRT/LRT options for their commercial corridors and enhanced cross-county suburban to job center services. We hope that you will give them a run for their money in developing an effective transit and transit-accessible future!
Every resident in Prince George’s County deserves a decent, affordable home as the first step to achieving economic security, a higher quality of life and a sense of stability. For the county’s moderate- and low-income households, having and keeping a home within their budget has become increasingly difficult.
Our core position on the Metro budget proposal is to oppose the severe service cuts. In a joint campaign with partner conservation and transit advocacy groups, www.fairshareformetro.com, we advocate for $74 million in additional funding from the Metro jurisdictions. This will fund the $40 million unaccounted for and avoid the $34 million in service cuts. If the public is being asked to pay higher fares, then they should not also be asked to endure severe service cuts as well. It is fair to ask for the jurisdictional member governments to provide the additional funding.
The Fair Budget Coalition fights for a just and inclusive District of Columbia through advocacy and organizing and by advancing budget and public policy initiatives which reflect the inter-dependency of the District’s community and economic development systems. Organized in 1994, Fair Budget is a coalition of grassroots community groups, human service providers, advocates, faith organizations, and concerned community members.