Dr. Gridlock

Readers offer solutions to Metro's budget crisis

Police investigators work the scene where a jogger was struck by a Metrobus in September.
Police investigators work the scene where a jogger was struck by a Metrobus in September. (Jonathan Newton/the Washington Post)
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By Robert Thomson
Thursday, March 25, 2010

While many Metro riders have been sharing their views at public hearings this week, I've heard from others who responded to our call for comment on how the transit agency should balance its budget.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

My first choice is that all local governments step up to the plate and fund their fair shares of the burden, but I doubt there's any traction for that option these days.

Karin Lyn

Arlington

DG: It doesn't hurt to ask, and some of the governments that support the transit system might well respond before their budgets are locked in this spring. The trouble is that they also are facing severe budget problems and must weigh the interests of Metro riders with those of residents concerned about their property tax rates, public schools and emergency services.

Expanded local contributions might eliminate the need for some of the many proposed Metrobus cuts, and that would be a great thing. But it's very unlikely that local governments can contribute enough to offset significant fare increases and service cuts.

Metro probably can take some money from its capital budget, which finances long-term maintenance and equipment upgrades. But that's dangerous ground. The more people assess the personal impact of the fare increases and service cuts, the more tempting it will be to raid the capital budget to make those things go away for a year.

Just because Metro doesn't spend all of its capital budget in a given year doesn't mean the money hasn't been earmarked for specific projects. You can borrow money from the capital budget if you know how you will replace it. Otherwise, it's just stealing from the future.


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