Myopia in Richmond

Friday, February 24, 2006

THE ANTI-TAX faithful in Richmond, doctrinaire to the last, must detest Northern Virginia, snicker at its bedraggled commuters and regard its mounting transportation problems with contempt. Why else would they sabotage $1.5 billion in federal aid for Metro -- a crucial bailout without which the future of the Washington area's main transit system is imperiled?

Five myopic Virginia lawmakers voted against a funding bill for Metro this week that would have allowed Northern Virginia localities to raise $50 million a year through a marginal increase in the sales tax. Together with funding measures now being shaped in Maryland and the District, the Virginia measure would have unlocked the proposed $1.5 billion federal subsidy over 10 years. Among the five who killed the bill on a subcommittee's tie vote were two Republican delegates from Prince William County -- Harry J. Parrish and L. Scott Lingamfelter -- which lies just beyond Metro's service area. Apparently, Virginia legislators are so parochial that they will blithely beggar their neighbors for the sake of maintaining their ideological rigidity.

Mr. Lingamfelter's stated reason for opposing funding for Metro -- the only major transit system in the United States without a dedicated revenue source -- is that Metro is "a mess" and in need of internal reforms. But the federal funding he disdains is tied to internal reforms, including the hiring of an inspector general to track how the transit agency spends its money. Mr. Parrish isn't against Metro funding in principle -- he just wants political cover. He said he'd support it if Northern Virginia voters backed it in a referendum. Heaven forbid that lawmakers would do the responsible thing on their own.

Let's be clear. By making Metro a permanent mendicant, forced to beg for funding year after year, the region it serves guarantees the system's continued decline. Mr. Lingamfelter thinks Metro's a mess now? He ain't seen nothing yet; let him watch it go another five or 10 years without the infusion of revenue it needs to keep what was once a state-of-the-art transit network up-to-date and operating smoothly. That'll be a mess Virginia's anti-tax ideologues will wish they'd helped fix -- way back in 2006.

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