In his column last week, Mark Kelly asked whether fundamental reforms to Metro are “myopic GOP grumbling or necessary?”
Mark is right that fundamental reforms to Metro are necessary.
Bipartisan support for a regional solution
Because Metro serves three independent jurisdictions (D.C., Maryland, Virginia), Metro had to be created by an interstate compact among those three jurisdictions. Under federal law, all interstate compacts also must be approved by the federal government.
The current interstate compact governing Metro establishes how it will be governed and financed. All amendments to the current Metro interstate compact similarly require agreement among those three jurisdictions and the federal government.
If anyone reading this thinks that Metro’s current problems can be solved using Metro’s current governing structure and financing, there is no point reading any further.
If you’re still with me, the reason I agree with Mark about the need for a bipartisan solution to Metro’s woes is that the Maryland and D.C. legislatures are currently controlled by Democrats, while the Virginia and federal legislatures are currently controlled by Republicans.
We cannot afford to wait to fix Metro in hopes (if you are a Dem) that the Democrats will take over the legislatures in Virginia and the federal government, or in hopes (if you are in the GOP) that the GOP will take over the legislatures in D.C. and Maryland. And I haven’t even mentioned the chief executives!
Since a partisan solution to Metro’s critical problems is impractical, we must arrive at a bipartisan solution to those problems — whether we like it or not.
More importantly, no matter which political party happens to control the legislatures at any given time in these four jurisdictions, millions of voters of the other party will still live there. Metro is vital to all of us regardless of our political affiliations.
There are a variety of fundamental reform plans for Metro that already have been offered. For example, each of the following three fundamental reform plans would require Metro interstate compact amendments:
In addition to these plans, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) has asked former Republican Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to lead a panel to develop a plan expected to be published this fall. It is virtually certain that whatever plan the LaHood panel develops also will require amendments to Metro’s interstate compact.
New, dedicated revenue stream
Most other metropolitan transit systems in America have a dedicated revenue stream to supplement the contributions of local governments. Our Metro system doesn’t have one:
“Instead, Metro relies on a patchwork of annual subsidies from local governments. In effect, Metro competes yearly against myriad other public spending priorities, its operating budget consistently facing some level of appropriations risk.”
Without a dedicated revenue stream (e.g., a regional sales tax), Arlington County and other local governments cannot afford to keep Metro afloat much longer.
Metro will eventually collapse without a dedicated revenue stream.
The only way for Metro to get a dedicated revenue stream is through interstate compact amendments.
Republicans won’t agree to a dedicated revenue stream unless Democrats agree to fundamental reforms of Metro governance and spending practices.
So, Arlington County needs to back a bipartisan deal to save Metro.