WASHINGTON — Metro will get a full $154 million per year requested from Virginia taxpayers to cover major capital repairs and upgrades, under a deal hammered out in the dying moments of the General Assembly.
With expected approvals from both the House and Senate, Virginia would be the first jurisdiction to approve dedicated capital funding for Metro. Metro requested a minimum of $500 million total in additional annual tax funding from the region over the next decade largely to help catch up on a maintenance backlog.
The agreement among House and Senate negotiators just before the General Assembly session ends redirects $132 million in existing taxes including the existing granter’s tax and some regional transportation money to a Metro capital fund, and adds $22 million from a regional gas tax floor that was separately passed.
Importantly for Republicans like Fairfax County Del. Tim Hugo, the bill includes a cost increase cap that cuts funding by 35 percent if Metro’s request for other funding in any year from local governments in Virginia increases by more than three percent from the prior year.
Metro supporters were extremely optimistic a deal would get done once the Republican-led House of Delegates approved a $105 million annual funding plan by a deadline near the midpoint of the session. The Senate had voted 25-15 for its plan that more closely tracked an initial proposal for $154 million annually.
While the General Assembly failed to reach a two-year budget deal before the end of the session Saturday, that will not impact the Metro bill, several sources familiar with the legislative process said.
The funding changes would however be incorporated into any final budget bill that is agreed to during a special session over coming weeks or months.
Maryland’s House of Delegates approved a bill last week that would provide $150 million annually for a Metro capital fund, which is slightly less than Maryland’s share would be under existing regional funding formulas.
Unlike Maryland’s and Virginia’s General Assemblies, the D.C. Council meets year-round, so the District expects to match the funding provided by the two other jurisdictions.
While this is the first specifically dedicated tax funding for Metro in its nearly 42-year history, the jurisdictions (local governments in Virginia, the state in Maryland, and the D.C. government) have been responsible for covering costs with tax dollars for decades.
A key difference is that any unspent money from this new Metro capital fund would remain with the agency for projects the following year.
In the past, Metro failed to spend its full capital maintenance, repair and upgrade budget and the remaining money was rolled over to the following year in place of additional local contributions rather than in addition to those contributions.
Another major difference is that dedicated funding would allow Metro to issue its own bonds, likely at lower interest rates than before, to increase upfront maintenance spending if required. Metro has indicated the bonding is crucial to future financial plans.