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Metro board member says Loudoun shouldn’t ‘shirk’ its Metro obligations

Courtesy Photo/Fairfax County Times
Will jurisdictions like Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria go for a regional sales tax to support the region’s embattled Metro (WMATA) rail system?

Several of Metro’s Virginia board members recently ducked the question and called on Loudoun County to do its part in helping finance the system.

Late last month, Loudoun County Supervisor Matt Letourneau (R-Dulles) offered some harsh predictions on a plan for a one-cent regional sales tax recently proposed by a Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG) panel to help finance Metro.

Letourneau, the vice chairman of MWCOG, said the regional sales tax has “virtually zero” chance of the General Assembly approving it or each locality adopting it. He also said the plan took the “easy way out.”

When asked at a recent Metro forum in Alexandria if Fairfax, Arlington and Alexandria would go for the sales tax, WMATA board members representing those three jurisdictions didn't give a clear answer.

“It is a difficulty in sometimes educating people what the need is for Metro, even when they’re putting it into their own jurisdiction,” said board member Catherine Hudgins, who represents Fairfax County and is a member of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. “I would hope that the Loudoun County board is not going to be one that would be a hold out in this [regional sales tax]. We always remind people, when you ride the Metro and you come into a jurisdiction, we pay for you.”

For years, local leaders of Metro jurisdictions have been lobbying for a dedicated source of funding.

In April, Metro’s General Manager Paul Wiedefeld called for a $500 million dedicated regional revenue stream for capital improvements, although he did not indicate where the money should come from.

Wiedefeld said Metro would need $15.5 billion over the next decade and that, without a change to its business model, funding jurisdictions would have to continue to choose each year “between substantially reducing service” or finding $12 billion more in public money for Metro’s operations over the next decade.

Arlington Metro board member Christian Dorsey said although he did not love the idea of a regional sales tax, he called it the “preferred option,” yet “regressive” from a policy perspective but “the most sufficient and sustainable source of revenue you can get.”

In response to Letourneau’s remarks, Dorsey, a member of the Arlington Board of Supervisors and colleague of Letourneau on MWCOG, said it was the Dulles supervisor’s community and that others in Virginia had “very different circumstances.”

“It’s not helpful for our region to get into what is a nonstarter for any jurisdiction outside of your own,” Dorsey said. “ … 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.

Loudoun County Administrator Tim Hemstreet and county staff are currently working on an “alternative capital funding scenario” to the regional sales tax that would allow the region to cover Metro’s capital funding costs without the tax. Letourneau said he anticipates the alternative plan will be ready sometime next month.

But Dorsey also said jurisdictions had a “variety of interests” in figuring out how to provide a stable dedicated source of funding for Metro. He thinks Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia ultimately might offer different funding solutions.

Metro board member Paul Smedberg told the Times-Mirror he thought “collectively what’s best for the system” was the way jurisdictions should go.

“There are a lot of options on the table, potentially,” the Alexandria city council member said, but added that he has "no idea" whether Virginia as a whole would be on board with the regional sales tax.

Last week, MWCOG approved eight “statement of principles” that call for some form of dedicated funding source, or sources, that can be earmarked to WMATA and “fully bondable at the highest possible financial rating, and enhances WMATA’s overall financial standing.”

The Silver Line extension into Loudoun County is about 50 percent complete and slated to open in 2020, yet some have been calling for the county to “Mexit” amid skyrocketing annual costs associated with the transit system’s operations and construction for jurisdictions around the region.

From fiscal 2017 to 2018, the jurisdictional funding for capital costs in D.C., Maryland and Virginia have shot up between 90 percent to more than 200 percent.

Leaders from Alexandria and Fairfax agreed that if no dedicated source of funding is secured, there really is no plan B.

“I don’t think we want to start on that last question because this isn’t an alternative anymore,” Hudgins said when asked what her jurisdiction would do in the event a dedicated funding source is not secured.

She insisted there was still time to resolve the funding issue.

“The plan B is then it puts more pressure on the jurisdictions, jurisdictional subsidies will have to go up, and...we get to a point where, we’re still having severe capital challenges that we’re not going to be able to maintain what we should, and we’ll be right back again after a number of years. Hopefully not, but it could potentially be back to a situation where we have a system where it needs major repairs again.”

Contact the writer at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) or on Twitter at @SydneyKashiwagi.


Fred - GREAT idea. Make users of transportation systems pay 100% of the cost of those systems. Love it. How do cars and trucks pay for the roads we drive on every day? Taxes. What is the #1 means of taxing cars and trucks - fuel tax. Every single state has a different tax rate on fuel (gas & diesel are different rates). Guess where VA stands? 13th [22.39/26.08 cents] to the bottom (lowest). That means VA charges the users in the state less than 37 other states do, as a tax on the fuel. I’ve never met or heard from a single person who was 100% happy with the roadway system. In Loudoun, we have to swap housing density for road extensions, or float massive bonds to become “road builders” that ultimately go into the VDOT road system. VDOT doesn’t spend all of our local tax $ back here.

The answer to improve it - raise the tax rate, generate more revenue, spend it on the roads, improve the roadway system, more satisfied users of the roadways.

D.C. - 23.5/23.5 cents
MD - 33.5/34.25 cents
PA - 58.2/74.7 cents
WV - 32.2/32.2 cents
NC - 34.55/34.55 cents

Same goes with planes, stop subsidizing from the federal general fund. Charge the flyers 100% of the true cost of a plane ticket within the overall passenger air industry. Wanna get away? Not for the true ticket price, I can tell you that.

You still want to hang your hat on 100% user fees?

Every time these stories come up I think of good ole Ken Reid for being the turn coat vote on this deal.  He got a few thousand in campaign donations and we all get stuck with the bill.

Metro should raise the fare if they need more money. Let those who USE the system, pay for the system.

more cowbell, prior to MWAA taking over the Dulles Toll road no toll funds were ever diverted to other parts of Virginia. The land the toll road occupies belongs to the MWAA who granted the state an easement to build the toll road. Part of the conditions of that easements was that toll funds raised on the road could only be spent on the toll road.

So the corrupt Metro board thinks Loudoun should just give them a blank check as if they’re doing us a favor….NO! Perhaps they should all take a pay cut, say 25%. It’s poorly managed/run. And should have just stopped at Dulles. I still don’t see the ridership for those two stops ever paying for itself. Loudoun commuters have paid too much because of all the increases on Dulles Toll Rd…A toll Road that was promised to go away once paid for but our corrupt politicians in Richmond enjoyed the extra money and funneling it to other parts of VA. Then gov Kaine had a brain fart and gave it to MWAA, another corrupt group. I think the George Mason Economic Professor(and BOS that voted for it) that pushed this onto Loudoun should pay our share and they can get paid back once metro makes a profit.

bail out now!  we have nothing and should not be paying for others mismanagement for 50 years.  where was our pre-nup on this agreement???

Pacer, I don’t oppose development, quite the opposite. I support citizens being able to use their property in nearly any way they choose.

But here is what you are suggesting:

1. Raise tax rates on metro areas so high that the expected revenue is never realized.

2. Since Loudoun is still on the hook for metro, the rest of us get stuck with the bill since you never, ever withdraw.

We saw this week that Amazon is planning on further disrupting retail. Malls and other brick-and-mortars are already under full assault but we are told to stick with the antiquated metro tech regardless of new impending tech. Head in the sand?

We need to ditch metro. Absent that, we need to recover whatever costs we can. If we can get data centers to take those spots, we should beg them to pay those higher taxes. Or maybe a university. But zoning it for residential merely dumps higher costs on the rest of us. Just like big business loves cheap illegal labor as the taxpayers pick up the extra costs, pacer and the developers love dumping costs on the citizens without the corrupt connections.

Gee pacerguy00, thanks so much for the insight.  It’s almost like you read my article in this paper a couple of months ago saying how the way to actually finance metro is to expand the Transportation Service Districts that are currently in place to pay for Metro.

Development isn’t the problem.  Development that sticks taxpayers with the bill while developers profit millions is the problem. 

Publicly financing developer profits is the core issue.  Loudoun swallows $200M+ in debt every single year.  These costs need to get pushed to developers so that we taxpayers aren’t paying for it.

Metro is just one big extension of that basic problem.

SGP, DD, etc; all the anti-metro folks are chirping from the cheap seats. Way to arm-chair QB folks.

The toothpaste is outta the tube, and you all plus Supv. Letourneau can saber rattle all you want. No sense in cutting off your nose to spite your face. The only think you all hate more than metro is taxes and development.

So here’s a devil’s threesome for metro, developers, and taxes for you to consider:

1) create a tax on commercial/residential development in special tax districts
2) quarantine off those funds for metro, fire/police, schools/sewers.
3) slow development due to raising costs and lower profit margins

Boom problem solved… Now you can crawl back into your caves and bury your head in the sand so the adults in the room can talk.

The Metro Compact is fundamentally flawed and needs to be abolished and replaced.  A sales tax (or any other funding really) just delays the inevitable.  WMATA (and MWAA too) should be disolved and a new compact put in place.

There isn’t a single item that we critics claimed will come to pass that, so far, hasn’t actually happened.

Entering into the Metro Funding Agreement when Loudoun did was one of the worst decisions the BoS ever made (and that’s saying something).

Translation:  Fairfax and Arlington are actually considering a “Metro tax” and are worried that Loudoun won’t follow them over the cliff.

Loudoun will only have 2 stations (which will barely be used IMO) and service probably won’t even start for a couple more years.  We don’t owe Metro, Fairfax, or Arlington a damn thing.

Folks should understand what these politicians are saying.  When the Greenway was built, they used borrowed money (bonds) and promised to pay it back over 50-75 years with ever-increasing tolls and usage.  Thus, the $300M road is now in debt at over $1B.

Same thing for Social Security.  They pay out more to the early recipients than they ever paid in accumulating $20T+ in net future liabilities.

Here, because Metro cannot pay for itself, the politicians want “free money”, or at least money that doesn’t have to be paid back until they are long gone.  Once they have a sales tax (or some other “dedicated funding stream”), they borrow against it and spend unseemly amounts of money to fix a broken system.  Then, when those bills come due, or Metro shows itself to be outdated technology as driverless cars arrive, the politicians tells us we can’t end Metro because it owes $B’s in bonds that MUST be paid back.

This is simply smoke and mirrors.  Bonding is an effective tool when a system is stable and you are looking to use cheap debt financing.  This scheme is no different than the no-doc home loans that were given out where the borrower had no reliable way to pay it all back.  The politicians think the public is too dumb to know what going on.  Are they correct?

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