Metro should consider a region-wide tax on payrolls to help offset its fast-rising operating deficits, District of Columbia officials told Metro's annual policy conference yesterday.
Officials from Virginia and Maryland also called for accelerated efforts to find new financial sources for transit, but made no specific proposals. Subsidies are expected to total about $180 million this fiscal year.
D.C.'s call came as about 150 transit officials and area legislators gathered at Airlie House near Warrenton, Va., for a two-day meeting dominated by issues of long-term funding. The session ended yesterday after protracted -- and inconclusive -- debate.
"We're in the same boat," said D.C. City Council member Jerry Moore, chairman of the Metro board, "and unless everybody grabs an oar and starts rowing, we're all going down together."
Officials from Virginia and Maryland said that passage of special taxes by their state legislatures in the coming sessions does not appear to be possible for political reasons.
Many expressed doubt that Metro's member governments ever would agree on a single tax because of differing political climates and degrees of financial solvency. "To try to bring uniformity to Richmond, Annapolis and the District of Columbia . . . is a little too much to expect," said Lowell Bridwell, secretary of the Maryland Department of Transportation.
Separate taxes were more likely, many officials said.
Bridwell, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman John F. Herrity, Montgomery County Council member William Hanna and other officials called on Metro to control costs and stand firm when it negotiates a new contract next year with its drivers and mechanics.
Herrity said that Metro's draft budget for fiscal 1984 would raise Fairfax County's subsidy outlays by as much as 59 percent. The county is trying to hold any increase in its overall spending to 6 percent for that year.
Regional transit taxes have been discussed and discarded at Metro's Airlie conferences for years. But transit officials said they believed that delegates this year took the idea more seriously than ever before.
D.C.'s plan, put forth by city finance director Gladys Mack, called for careful study of new funding sources, "particularly a uniform, dedicated regional earnings tax" that would help pay Metrorail deficits, debt service and replacement costs.
The goal is a stable and separate source of funding to relieve pressure on local treasuries and end the bickering over money that now plagues Metro. Los Angeles, Houston and other U.S. cities have already taken similar steps, establishing special sales taxes for transportation.
The Maryland state government now pays about 75 percent of the operating subsidies billed to Prince George's and Montgomery counties. But Bridwell told the conference that with subsidies rising quickly, the state could not be expected to pay at that rate forever, and the two counties might have to find other sources of funding.
Metro's five Northern Virginia jurisdictions are more heavily burdened than the Maryland counties. State aid and revenues from a special gasoline tax cover only about 45 percent of their share of Metro's operating subsidies.