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Peter’s Take: Dorsey Leads On Dedicated Metro Funding

Peter RousselotPeter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

In April, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments released a report recommending a new 1 percent regional sales tax for Metro as the best way to generate a dedicated source of funding:

A 1 percent sales tax in Metro’s eight city and county jurisdictions would provide the transit system with adequate revenue to cover its most urgent infrastructure and maintenance costs over the next decade, according to a new analysis …

On July 20, the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution opposing this COG recommendation: “Supervisors argued the proposed regional sales tax was not fair to a county like Loudoun that will only gain about three miles of track.”

Metro needs dedicated funding

Dedicated funding is money that is not subject to an appropriations process.

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.”

Arlington will pay more for Metro without dedicated funding

Metro will continue to deteriorate without dedicated funding, and will eventually go into a death spiral. Arlington and the entire region which depends on Metro cannot allow that to happen. The longer the region drags its feet, the financial burdens on Arlington to keep Metro afloat will put greater and greater pressure on our local budget — leading inexorably to:

  • higher local property tax bills
  • crowding out of other critical local budget priorities
  • a combination of both of the above

Metro dedicated funding should be conditioned on bipartisan reform

As I have written previously, a dedicated funding source for Metro should be tied to a bipartisan, regional Metro reform plan that will maximize the chances that both the new and the existing funding for Metro will be spent wisely.

Dedicated funding source need not be identical in every jurisdiction

As originally proposed, COG’s 1 percent sales tax envisioned a uniform new tax in every participating jurisdiction. But, that kind of uniformity is not the only possible outcome. It’s on this point that Arlington County Board member Christian Dorsey has demonstrated leadership. While Dorsey is Arlington’s representative on the Metro Board of Directors, Arlington’s Metro representative no longer is a voting representative.

When Loudoun’s opposition to the 1 percent sales tax first surfaced, Dorsey took the lead in proposing options, while emphasizing the responsibility of each jurisdiction to participate equitably in a regional solution:

“I’m not an apollite that says we gotta all do the same thing, but don’t use this as an opportunity to shirk your responsibility to participate equitably, and if that means something different out in Loudoun than in Arlington, it wouldn’t be the first time, and that would be OK.”

Dorsey noted that some of his constituents were for a regional sales tax that “wouldn’t disproportionately harm one sector of the taxpaying community,” while others preferred a meals tax that would concentrate on development around the Metro stations. 

Conclusion

It’s challenging to find a way to get to yes on a bipartisan regional proposal for dedicated Metro funding. Thanks to Christian Dorsey for his leadership in carefully exploring various alternative ways to get there.

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