Md. leaders working on their own Metro funding plan

WASHINGTON — A group of Maryland lawmakers are working on their own proposals for major changes to Metro that would be required before the transit agency gets any more dedicated taxpayer dollars.

Del. Marc Korman, a Democrat who represents parts of Bethesda and Potomac, said the lawmakers hope to unveil their plans in coming weeks.

“Money helps; I want them to have dedicated funding. But there are other issues there with the management, with the governance, that need to be addressed,” Korman said.

“I hope we’re on a road to dedicated funding by this time next year, but I also think dedicated funding alone is not the answer,” he added. “Metro’s problem is not just money. The station I use nine months of the year as a daily rider is Bethesda. They just replaced the escalators at Bethesda. Two days ago, two of the three escalators were out of service,” he said Wednesday.

The plan, which would only represent the views of the group of Maryland lawmakers involved in discussions, is designed to give the group a voice in the efforts to develop a regional consensus on how to move forward on Metro.

“I don’t think you’re going to see a Maryland bill that does not have Virginia and D.C. buy-in; I think there’s very little point in doing that. I think you need a regional agreement,” Korman said.

A stronger voice for riders?

Among the changes the group of Maryland lawmakers is expected to suggest is a stronger voice for riders or other Metro stakeholders, possibly through a strengthened Riders Advisory Council, and a requirement that Metro maintain a strategic plan for the system tied to the current realities of declining ridership and crumbling infrastructure.

“We had SafeTrack, we have Back2Good; the last actual Metro strategic plan, I would argue, was (2014’s) Metro Momentum, which is obviously very outdated,” Korman said.

Even any agreed-upon action could be complicated, as demonstrated by the Metro Safety Commission legislation — all three jurisdictions eventually agreed on it, but it still took months to pass. The safety oversight group has still not been established, since Congress has yet to approve the legislation. On Wednesday, the House Judiciary Committee advanced the resolution to the full House of Representatives.

“Montgomery and Prince George’s or the State of Maryland is not going to add a bunch of money if Virginia and D.C. are not also doing it. We can’t call for a management reform or a governance reform of Metro unless D.C. and Virginia agree, because we don’t have the power to force it without their agreement,” Korman said.

The Maryland lawmakers are meeting with former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood Tuesday, Korman said, and continue to have informal discussions with leaders elsewhere in the region.

Panel report isn’t ‘gospel’

A Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments technical panel recommended in April that the region adopt a one-percent sales tax that would go directly to Metro. The panel estimated that would raise $650 million, which would provide the $500 million per year for capital repair projects General Manager Paul Wiedefeld says the system needs while also offsetting other future regional contributions.

“I don’t think that technical panel report is gospel; I think it’s one path forward,” Korman said.

A number of Virginia leaders have written that recommendation off already for a variety of reasons. The latest consensus is that each part of the region should be able to raise whatever additional amount of money is agreed upon in its own way, whether that is through a sales tax, gas tax, property tax or other source of money.

Virginia General Assembly leaders, and some in Maryland’s legislature, have also pushed for Metro to demonstrate more improvement before new money is provided.

“Asking a bunch of elected officials to vote for a bunch of new money for a system that is really struggling, without anything else tied to that, is a challenge, and so I think you need to show that you’re making progress — at least progress — on some of these other fronts in order to get funding of any real significance through,” Korman said.

A regional consensus

He believes Wiedefeld must press for the funding, and the governors of Maryland and Virginia must be on the same page as D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, in order to get anything through.

“It’s not simple; it’s not easy, and there’s a lot of people very worked up about Metro for good reason, and so we need a regional consensus to make any progress,” Korman said.

Without promises of significant reforms to show lawmakers, Korman said, there will likely be no new funding at all.

“Getting them to agree to that with no other stuff, I actually think, is impossible. And also not something we should be asking taxpayers to even do. It’s not politically sensible, and it’s also not substantively sensible, to just say ‘Here’s more money, continue doing things as you’ve been doing them.’ It just doesn’t make any sense to me, and I say that as a politician and as a rider,” Korman said.

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