Re­gion split on Metro ‘re­form’ board

Va. gives sup­port, but Md., D.C. have con­cerns

The Washington Post - - METRO - BY ROBERT MCCART­NEY AND MARTINE POW­ERS

A pro­posal to re­place the Metro board with a smaller panel drew bi­par­ti­san sup­port from Vir­ginia of­fi­cials and re­gional busi­ness lead­ers Tues­day, but Mary­land raised le­gal con­cerns, and the District said it would sup­port the plan only if com­bined with a re­gional sales tax or other ded­i­cated fund­ing for the agency.

Mean­while, Rep. Bar­bara Com­stock (R-Va.) said she is in the fi­nal stages of draft­ing a lon­gawaited bill to shrink the board from 16 mem­bers to five, as for­mer U.S. trans­porta­tion sec­re­tary Ray LaHood rec­om­mended in a re­port made pub­lic Sun­day. The bill would give the “re­form” board en­hanced pow­ers and pro­vide in­creased fed­eral fund­ing for the tran­sit sys­tem, Com­stock said,

but she de­clined to pro­vide de­tails.

Vir­ginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s trans­porta­tion sec­re­tary and a coali­tion of ma­jor busi­ness groups said they would seek quick ac­tion to scrap and re­place the Metro board in the wake of the LaHood re­port, which was ob­tained by The Wash­ing­ton Post be­fore its of­fi­cial re­lease later this month.

They hope an over­haul of Metro’s gover­nance — in­clud­ing bar­ring elected of­fi­cials from serv­ing on the new board — will en­cour­age the Vir­ginia and Mary­land state leg­is­la­tures to ap­prove in­creased fund­ing for the tran­sit agency when their an­nual ses­sions be­gin in Jan­uary.

“I would hope that the [area govern­ments] would be act­ing as quickly as pos­si­ble on putting to­gether a Metro re­form board,” said Jim Dyke, a for­mer Metro board mem­ber who now works on the Metro task force of the Greater Wash­ing­ton Board of Trade.

But the plan drew crit­i­cism from Metro board mem­bers — who would lose their posts — and some elected of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing Rep. Ger­ald E. Con­nolly (D-Va.). They said subur­ban ju­ris­dic­tions would re­sist los­ing the rep­re­sen­ta­tion that a large board al­lows.

“From a Mary­land and Vir­ginia point of view, there are def­i­nitely prob­lems with try­ing to cre­ate that kind of smaller board,” said Metro board mem­ber Michael Gold­man, who rep­re­sents Mary- land. “They don’t want to get cut out of the sys­tem.”

Board mem­ber Paul Smed­berg noted that six North­ern Vir­ginia ju­ris­dic­tions pro­vide fund­ing for Metro and de­serve a voice.

“I per­son­ally have found that elected and ap­pointed mem­bers both bring value and dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives, and from my view, it’s re­ally helped the de­bate,” said Smed­berg, who also is a mem­ber of the Alexan­dria City Coun­cil.

There was broad ac­knowl­edg­ment — in­clud­ing from tran­sit ad­vo­cates — that LaHood’s re­port pro­vides in­de­pen­dent val­i­da­tion of Metro’s re­quest for an ad­di­tional $500 mil­lion a year for new equip­ment and re­pairs to en­sure safety and re­li­a­bil­ity.

“The con­ver­sa­tion has changed to how to do it,” said Vir­ginia Trans­porta­tion Sec­re­tary Aubrey Layne, who helped McAuliffe (D) re­cruit LaHood to do the study.

Most of­fi­cials, busi­ness groups, tran­sit ad­vo­cates and other stake­hold­ers also en­dorsed LaHood’s rec­om­men­da­tion that Metro needs ded­i­cated fund­ing — a tax or other mech­a­nism to pro­vide a re­li­able, long-term stream of rev­enue that could be pledged to re­pay bonds and thus help Metro bor­row on fi­nan­cial mar­kets.

But in what many peo­ple viewed as the prin­ci­pal short­com­ing of LaHood’s re­port, it doesn’t rec­om­mend a spe­cific tax or other mech­a­nism for rais­ing that fund­ing. In­stead, he left it up to each ju­ris­dic­tion to choose its own way.

It was im­me­di­ately clear that this will con­tinue to be a stick­ing point.

Mary­land Gov. Larry Ho­gan (R) de­clined to en­dorse an even­tual com­mit­ment to ded­i­cated fund­ing. In­stead, his of­fice reaf­firmed his pro­posal for Mary­land, Vir­ginia, the District and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to each con­trib­ute an ad­di­tional $500 mil­lion over four years.

Ho­gan spokesman Doug Mayer said the gov­er­nor’s plan is “the only plan that has a re­al­is­tic chance of be­ing adopted.”

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) wants a re­gion­wide sales tax and said she will only con­sider oust­ing the Metro board for a new panel if the two are part of the same pack­age.

She and oth­ers have crit­i­cized Ho­gan’s plan as a tem­po­rary fix.

“What [Ho­gan’s plan] amounts to is some peo­ple’s will­ing­ness to kick the can down the road for four years,” Bowser said. “Too many peo­ple have worked on this is­sue very se­ri­ously, and we should not kill the mo­men­tum with a stop­gap mea­sure that doesn’t give Metro what it needs.”

The dis­pute be­tween Mary­land and the District highlights why many were dis­ap­pointed that LaHood didn’t make a rec­om­men­da­tion on how to raise the ded­i­cated fund­ing.

“He had a golden op­por­tu­nity to re­ally make a state­ment on ded­i­cated fund­ing, and he ducked,” Metro board Chair­man Jack Evans said.

But LaHood said it would have been “fool­ish” for him to rec­om­mend a uni­form re­gional sales tax, as fa­vored by the District, top of­fi­cials in Mont­gomery County and re­gional bud­get ex­perts.

“I talked to everybody, and the bot­tom line is there’s no con­sen­sus, there’s no agree­ment for a re­gional sales tax,” LaHood said.

McAuliffe sup­ports ded­i­cated fund­ing and plans to pro­pose it in his fi­nal bud­get in De­cem­ber. But, Vir­ginia has op­posed a uni­form re­gion­wide sales tax.

LaHood urged an in­crease in fed­eral fund­ing for Metro, and Com­stock said her bill would pro­vide an un­spec­i­fied amount. She said she plans to file the leg­is­la­tion be­fore the end of the year and has al­ready dis­cussed it with Reps. John De­laney (D-Md.) and Don Beyer (D-Va.) and plans to do so soon with Sen. Mark R. Warner (D-Va.).

The bill “def­i­nitely has a lot of sim­i­lar­i­ties” with the LaHood plan, Com­stock said, partly be­cause she has been con­sult­ing with LaHood, and both have con­sulted with busi­ness lead­ers.

“The car­rot would be ad­di­tional fund­ing,” she said. “We’ll have to have some con­sid­er­able sav­ings and re­forms, in ex­change for the money.”

Con­nolly said he’s ag­nos­tic about re­duc­ing the size of the board but is adamantly op­posed to bar­ring elected of­fi­cials from serv­ing on the new board. Be­cause Metro’s prob­lems di­rectly af­fect mil­lions of the re­gion’s tax­pay­ers, at least some of the mem­bers should be peo­ple who are re­spon­si­ble to vot­ers if they fail to get Metro back on track.

Con­nolly said he feared that a board stacked with “tech­nocrats,” with no di­rect re­la­tion­ship with vot­ers, would be “a recipe for fur­ther de­cline” — and he wor­ries the fo­cus on over­haul­ing the board will suck en­ergy from the bat­tle to estab­lish a long-term fund­ing source for the agency.

There also were le­gal ques­tions over LaHood’s board pro­posal. Ho­gan sup­ports re­struc­tur­ing, but his of­fice ques­tioned LaHood’s claim that the changes could be made with­out re­vis­ing the Metro Com­pact, or gov­ern­ing doc­u­ment. That would be a lengthy, cum­ber­some process that vir­tu­ally all par­ties want to avoid.

“The gov­er­nor’s le­gal coun­sel has ad­vised that re­form­ing the board in the man­ner de­tailed in this [Lahood] re­port would re­quire re­vis­it­ing the Com­pact,” spokesman Mayer said.

LaHood said re­search by lawyers at DLA Piper, the global busi­ness law firm where he works, shows how it could be done with­out re­vis­ing the Com­pact.

“I have the le­gal doc­u­men­ta­tion that show it can be done,” LaHood said. “Prin­ci­pals can ask their ap­pointees to step aside. These ap­point­ments can be made.”

Bowser said she agreed with LaHood that it was legally pos­si­ble.

“Each ju­ris­dic­tion could pass sim­ple leg­is­la­tion to make that hap­pen,” she said.

But she said she couldn’t sup­port shrink­ing the board with­out a com­mit­ment to fix the big­ger prob­lem of pro­vid­ing Metro with fund­ing.

“I don’t have an is­sue with mak­ing the board smaller as long as we’re do­ing what the au­thor­ity re­ally needs, and that is se­cur­ing its fi­nan­cial fu­ture,” Bowser said. “I’m not go­ing to tell peo­ple that chang­ing the board is go­ing to fix Metro when I know it needs $1.5 bil­lion a year” for cap­i­tal in­vest­ments, she said.

Hear­ing the over­all re­ac­tion, Layne ac­knowl­edged that his orig­i­nal hopes for the LaHood project were un­re­al­is­tic. He and McAuliffe had thought the for­mer sec­re­tary, a re­spected out­sider with bi­par­ti­san cre­den­tials, could unite the re­gion around a shared plan.

“Ob­vi­ously we would have loved to see everybody jump up and say, ‘ This is the an­swer,’ but . . . that might have been a lit­tle naive,” Layne said.

“I don’t have an is­sue with mak­ing the board smaller as long as we’re do­ing what the au­thor­ity re­ally needs, and that is se­cur­ing its fi­nan­cial fu­ture.” D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser

KATE PAT­TER­SON FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Ray LaHood rec­om­mended the Metro board should shrink and be re­placed in his re­port.

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