Local Va. leaders push for dedicated Metro tax

WASHINGTON — Even as state-level leaders in Virginia blocked a regional sales tax to fund Metro’s significant needs, local leaders believe a regional dedicated tax is the best way forward because their governments are “tapped out.”

“I think it’s way premature to take any particular approach to funding Metro off the table … considering how dire the need is for Metro for additional funding,” said Falls Church City Council member David Snyder.

The city raised property tax rates by 3 cents this year, and pointed to rising Metro costs as a main driver.

“Local governments in Northern Virginia are really not able to contribute more, particularly in the case of the city of Falls Church, one of the smallest of the Metro jurisdictions,” Snyder told WTOP following the news last week that Virginia is blocking a regionwide 1 percent sales tax. “Metro costs are already competing with teachers and police officers, so any notion that the state can look to localities for additional funding is way off the mark.”

He has led a number of regional transportation groups and is the current chairman of the Virginia Transit Association, a group that advocates for public transit funding in the commonwealth.

“The city of Falls Church is tapped out when it comes to funding Metro,” he said, “so the state really ought to show some courage and leadership and not attempt to devolve more of these costs onto localities, but instead do what it ought to do, which is to recognize Metro’s contribution to state tax revenues and come up with what Metro needs.”

Local governments in Virginia are not allowed to impose new taxes without the explicit permission of the General Assembly. So if each jurisdiction ends up on its own path as suggested last week by state Sen. George Barker, lawmakers in Richmond would need to pass separate provisions permitting each city or county’s new taxes. The jurisdictions do have the authority to raise or lower property taxes without state approval.

“The funding just simply has to increase if we’re going to have a world-class system again,” Snyder said. “The only real way to do this, to avoid conflicting with absolutely essential local government services, is for the state to take some sort of action, contribute state-level money as well as probably some sort of regional tax in and around Northern Virginia.”

Snyder hopes to work with state leaders on that, even though many lawmakers in Richmond and elsewhere have been skeptical of any new dedicated funding for the system that would require the state or local governments to give up control of the cash.

“I think the best way to do it is some sort of regional — at least Northern Virginia — overlay tax of some kind, so it doesn’t compete in local government budgets with essentials such as teachers and police officers,” Snyder said.

He raised the possibility of spreading the tax over a wider area than just jurisdictions that have Metro rail or bus stops, because Metro provides wide-ranging economic benefits, he said.

“It should be on those areas which benefit from Metro, and those areas may be broader than simply the areas of Metro service,” he said.

That could be a tough sell in the General Assembly.

D.C. Council member and Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans has also been sharply critical of Virginia leaders who have questioned the wisdom of a new tax dedicated to Metro repairs.

Evans and Snyder are among those also advocating for more federal funding for the system. President Donald Trump’s budget proposal does maintain an existing $150 million-per-year commitment that is close to expiring.

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