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Virginia governor asks D.C., Maryland for Metro help

Silver Spring Station is on the Metrorail's Red Line. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

Silver Spring Station is on the Metrorail’s Red Line. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is asking Maryland and the District of Columbia to provide dedicated funding for Metrorail. (Maximilian Franz/The Daily Record)

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, D, said Tuesday his state has done its part for Metro by urging board reforms and pledging to provide dedicated funding, and he called on Maryland and the District to join the effort.

McAuliffe spoke at a news conference marking the official release of a report on fixing Metro prepared by former U.S. transportation secretary Ray LaHood.

The event lost its element of surprise when The Washington Post obtained a copy of the report and published it last month. That didn’t stop McAuliffe from proclaiming that the time for studying Metro was over, and the time for action has arrived.

“We have got enough reports,” McAuliffe said. “We don’t need any more planning. We know what we need to do.”

The outgoing governor said he has completed his final budget, to be released Dec. 18, and it will include guaranteed, long-term funding for Metro as LaHood recommended. He declined to say what form the financing will take, but suggested it would not involve a tax increase.

“Virginia today has done their part. We are putting up our money,” McAuliffe said. “It is dedicated, sustainable and it will go on perpetually into the future. I am asking the other jurisdictions to do it.”

But McAuliffe’s claim of success was premature insofar as there is no guarantee that the Virginia General Assembly will approve dedicated funding. McAuliffe also will not be around to see his proposal through; he steps down as governor next month at the end of a four-year term.

McAuliffe’s air of confidence also is, in some respects, at odds with the reality of the reaction to LaHood’s report from some of the region’s leaders. The proposal has drawn objections from Maryland and, to a lesser extent, from the District of Columbia, and in a sign of the lack of consensus around the recommendations, neither Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, R, nor District Mayor Muriel Bowser, D, attended the news conference.

McAuliffe recruited LaHood in March to conduct the study in hope of forging a regional consensus about Metro’s governance and funding. Hogan and Bowser were wary of the project from the start. The U.S. Department of Transportation has not commented on LaHood’s recommendations.

Bowser strongly supports dedicated funding, but wants it to take the form of a regionwide sales tax, which McAuliffe has rejected it on grounds it would disproportionately burden Virginia.

Hogan has declined to support dedicated funding, partly because of concern that it would involve tax increases. He instead has proposed that Maryland, Virginia, the District and the federal government each contribute an additional $500 million to the transit agency over four years.

McAuliffe said he expects Hogan to change his mind, because the Maryland plan is inadequate.

“I assume that Maryland will come along” with dedicated funding, McAuliffe said.

“The plan that [Maryland] offered was short term, four years,” he said.

McAuliffe said Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld, who was present at the news conference, “can’t do any long-term, dedicated financing under what was proposed by Maryland, so that does not solve the problem.”

He added that without dedicated funding, Metro would eventually have to reduce service.

“When you begin to cut service, it is a death spiral for Metro,” McAuliffe said.

McAuliffe urged Maryland and the District to support LaHood’s call to replace the 16-member Metro board with a five-member, temporary “reform board” to accelerate efforts to address the agency’s challenges in governance, finances and operational efficiency.

“We need a reform board, and Mayor Bowser and Gov. Hogan need to get on board to do that,” McAuliffe said.

Rep. Barbara Comstock, R-Va., also proposed a five-member, temporary reform board in legislation she filed Monday.

Hogan has said that he likes the idea of a reform board, but that it would be illegal without going through the difficult, time-consuming process of amending the Metro compact, which spells out how the agency is governed and financed.

McAuliffe and LaHood say a reform board could be set up on a voluntary basis without changing the compact. LaHood released an eight-page legal memorandum Tuesday, prepared by his law firm DLA Piper, describing how the reform board could be created in that way.

Hogan was in Baltimore Tuesday announcing initiatives to curb violent crime. “In general, the governor doesn’t attend other people’s press conferences about reports that were leaked to the media weeks ahead of time,” Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer said.

At the time of the news conference, Bowser was speaking at a meeting of the Federal City Council, but her office said she met with LaHood two weeks ago to discuss the report.

Bowser has expressed support for a reform board in principle, and agrees it can be done without amending the Metro compact. But she has said she can only support a reform board on the condition that all parties commit to dedicated funding.