Metropolitan Washington Area Transit Authority GM Paul Wiedefeld put forth a plan recently to adequately fund Metro — so that he can fulfill the expectations that the region has put on him to fix the system. He is calling for dedicated funding, cost controls and significant operating and financial reform to make the agency more efficient.
Specifically, Wiedefeld has called for a dedicated funding source that raises $500 million per year; a capped 3-percent increase on the operating and capital contributions made by local jurisdictions; a 10-year extension of the annual $150 million PRIIA funding from the federal government; an elevation of Metro’s annual capital program from between $900 million and $1.2 billion to $1.5 billion per year; a change from a defined-benefit pension plan for future hires to a defined-contribution 401(k)-type retirement plan; and competitively bidding some staffing functions for new service (e.g., Silver Line phase 2 station operations).
The most important aspect of this plan is Wiedefeld’s call to finally create a dedicated funding source. Dedicated funding has been thought necessary for Metro’s long-term health since the early planning for our regional transit system in the 1960s. Why is dedicated funding critical? It allows for better long-range planning by removing some of the uncertainty that exists with annual appropriations from each of the jurisdictions. This uncertainty is on full display as we wait to see if federal infrastructure funding will be significant increased, as President Trump said on the campaign trail, or dramatically cut (along with other domestic spending), as stated in the president’s preliminary budget last month.
Only with the long-range certainty of dedicated funding can Metro borrow the billions of dollars needed to perform the capital improvement work that will return the system to a state of good repair. The dedicated funding would go directly into an account that could only be used for debt service on capital borrowing. It would ensure a higher bond rating, sufficient funding to pay for the debt and, most important, that Metro would finally get the money it needs to be fixed.
It is time to end the 50-year deferment of establishing a dedicated funding source for Metro. The D.C. Council passed legislation more than 10 years ago to dedicate 0.5-percent sales tax to Metro when Maryland and Virginia passed matching legislation — which never happened. I plan to introduce a bill later this year to increase that level to one percent and call on my colleagues in Richmond and Annapolis to move quickly to give the Metro-reliant cities and counties in Northern Virginia and Maryland the authority to do so as well.
Paul Wiedefeld is an outstanding general manager. He’s told us the resources he needs to fix Metro. If we don’t give them to him, then we can’t expect the system to be any different than it is now.