D.C., Maryland struggle to boost shares of Metro funding

By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The District and Maryland will be hard-pressed to provide additional funding to help Metro close a sizable budget gap and avoid deep service cuts, officials said Monday.

Virginia jurisdictions that help fund the transit agency have proposed budgets that would allow them to meet their share of $74 million sought from all regional jurisdictions in increased funding for Metro.

The agency's budget proposes that an additional $40 million in funding come from all local jurisdictions to help meet a $189 million gap in its $1.4 billion operating budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Transit advocates are also calling on the localities to provide an additional $34 million that Metro proposed recouping from service cuts.

But with key budget decisions expected next month, officials from the District and Maryland, which would have to increase their funding by about $27 million and $30 million, respectively, remained tentative in suggesting that such money would be forthcoming.

"We are not at this time committing to any additional funding" for Metro, said Erin Henson, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Department of Transportation. Maryland will increase its subsidy to Metro in 2011 by about 4 percent, or $8.7 million, to help cover the increase in the number of people who use the MetroAccess service for the elderly and disabled. Maryland riders account for about 65 percent of MetroAccess users.

Paratransit costs are "growing faster than any other item in the budget," said Peter Benjamin, chairman of Metro's board of directors.

Overall, despite a large drop in state revenue, Maryland's contribution to Metro has grown 26.2 percent since 2007, Henson said.

Maryland officials are awaiting the outcome of public hearings over how Metro should fill the budget gap before deciding on any additional increases, Henson said. Maryland's General Assembly is expected to vote on the budget before April 12, she said.

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) is set to release his budget Thursday, but officials said that providing a big increase for Metro would necessitate trade-offs.

"At a time when our revenues are falling off, it's going to be a question of priority-setting," said Metro Board member Jim Graham (D.C.). "The challenge that we face is, assuming the mayor does not come up with the money, what do we forgo?"

Graham said that the District's contribution to Metro has grown since 2007, from $247 million to $352 million this fiscal year. "I am not in favor of fare hikes or service cuts," he said. "We are very much hard at work on this."

Transit advocates from an umbrella group called Fair Share for Metro planned to hand out fliers at several Metrorail stations Tuesday asking riders to lobby their local representatives for more money for Metro to prevent service cuts.

"We need people to contact their elected officials, because the governor of Maryland and Mayor Fenty have the next key decisions to make," said Cheryl Cort of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, which is participating in the Fair Share campaign.

Cort and others said that fare increases are nearly inevitable, given Metro's budget gap, so the coalition is focused on preventing a loss of service.

She said the commuters she spoke with Monday are "shocked and in disbelief" about the scope of possible service cuts, which include eliminating eight-car trains, increasing the wait between trains to 30 minutes in the evening and discontinuing service on portions of the Yellow Line during certain times of the week.

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