At its November 2017 meeting, the COG Board of Directors received a report from members of its Metro Strategy Group, who have been focused on helping the region ensure the transit system’s long-term financial sustainability by securing permanent, dedicated funding.
The regional group of 11 elected officials, appointed earlier this year from the COG Board of Directors and Transportation Planning Board by COG Board Chairman Kenyan McDuffie, is led by Fairfax County Chairman Sharon Bulova. The group is planning to make recommendations later this year in advance of the 2018 state legislative sessions.
Prince George’s County Council Chairman and COG Vice Chairman Derrick Davis led off the discussion by reiterating the Metro Strategy Group’s strong support of Metro’s capital plan for $15.5 billion in projects over the next 10 years to bring the system to a state of good repair. The group has focused on Metro’s critical capital project needs and the currently unfilled gap of $6.1 billion in capital funding.
To erase this gap, members have reached consensus that $500 million annually is needed in dedicated funding that is bondable at the highest possible rating, recurring, and increasing with economic growth. The group has also stressed that the federal government should join with the District, Maryland, and Virginia to address the funding gap while preserving all the current funding streams that are essential for achieving a state of good repair.
“We remain unwavering in our focus on finding a long-term, permanent solution to provide Metro the financial support it requires,” Davis said. As the group continues to push for dedicated funding, he stated the need for the system’s funding partners to commit a ‘down payment’ to assure Metro’s capital needs are fully covered for fiscal year 2019.
Davis, along with District of Columbia Council Chairman Phil Mendelson and Virginia State Senator George Barker, summarized current efforts underway to meet Metro’s capital needs in the upcoming fiscal year. Davis said Metro Strategy Group members generally saw Governor Hogan’s proposal of $500 million a year from D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and the federal government for four years as “moving us forward” as long as there was a commitment to finalizing a long-term solution expeditiously, preferably in 2018.
Mendelson reiterated the areas of consensus, such as the additional $500 million required annually in dedicated, bondable funding. While noting that the hope was this long-term agreement would be resolved by now, he said that the District plans to pay an additional capital contribution for another year. He said that it would do so for only one more year to keep pressure on the region to come up with an agreement for a new tax. The D.C. Council recently introduced legislation to provide dedicated funding for Metro through a .75% sales tax contingent on Maryland and Virginia dedicating an equivalent sales tax revenue.
Barker said the Metro Strategy Group's effort was headed on the right track and stressed “the need to move forward now on funding even if we can’t get all of it bondable at the best rate yet, so that we send a clear message and provide what will be needed in terms of long-term resources to meet [Metro’s] capital needs.”
Arlington County Board Member Christian Dorsey, who serves on the Metro Board of Directors, thanked Metro Strategy Group members for their work in validating the transit system’s funding needs. He reminded his fellow officials that the capital projects that require funding are not a “wish list” but essential to maintaining a safe and reliable system over the next 10 years and decades after that as outlined by Metro General Manager/CEO Paul Wiedefeld.
Loudoun County Supervisor Matt Letourneau looked ahead to the group’s final recommendations. He advised that additional dialogue and engagement of state leaders will be essential for advancing the Metro Strategy Group's recommendations - and such dialogue has already started with several key state legislative and executive branch officials and will be widened.
Davis added that while the group has focused on funding, its members have been following proposals on Metro governance and reform. He and Barker said the group is looking forward to Secretary Ray LaHood’s upcoming report on behalf of the Commonwealth of Virginia and said Metro Strategy Group members are considering a possible position on governance since there is a connection between funding and governance.