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Breakthrough in Maryland on Metro funding, as Hogan and legislature come together


Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and the Democratic-controlled legislature came together Friday to support a bill that would give Metro permanent, additional funding of $150 million a year on condition that Virginia and the District contribute the same or more.

The movement in Annapolis — in which Hogan shifted his position on the size and duration of the funding — marked a major step toward Metro’s goal of obtaining a substantial, dedicated revenue source in this year’s General Assembly sessions in Maryland and Virginia.

Hogan and other Maryland leaders expressed hope that their action would encourage Virginia and the District to approve increased funding for Metro, as well. Lawmakers in Richmond will hold key negotiations next week that will determine how much their state will contribute, and with what conditions.

The District, an outspoken supporter of dedicated funding for the transit agency, is expected to go along with whatever the states decide.

In Annapolis, two key House committees approved a bill around midday authorizing $150 million in dedicated funding for Metro. Later in the afternoon, Hogan called on the legislature to pass the bill right away so he could sign it.

Hopes run high for historic Metro deals in Maryland and Virginia, but crucial details remain unresolved.

“The governor is urging the General Assembly to immediately pass this legislation and get it to his desk,” Hogan spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said. “Our office has been working extremely closely with the legislature and we thank them for joining with us to get this done and secure Metro’s future.”

Chasse also said Hogan recently had “a productive conversation” about Metro with Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D), and was “encouraged to see that Virginia appears to be making similar progress.”

She added, “Washington, D.C. must follow suit quickly.”

Hogan was reacting to votes by the House Appropriations and House Environment and Transportation committees.

The two panels raised the state’s planned contribution by $25 million from $125 million in the original legislation.

That increase means that if the bill takes effect, and Virginia and the District match it, Metro will receive total additional funding of $450 million a year. That’s close to the $500 million that the agency says it needs from the three jurisdictions to ensure safety and reliability.

“We felt it was important to make sure that we had an appropriate amount of money for Metro,” House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) said. “We think this will be a good signal for both Virginia and Washington, D.C.”

The Maryland Senate must approve the bill, as well as the House, but lawmakers expect it to endorse $150 million for Metro or seek even more.

In Virginia, a conference committee meets next week to resolve differences between the House and Senate over whether the state will give Metro as little as $105 million a year or as much as $154 million.

Some Richmond lawmakers and Metro supporters called on Annapolis to ultimately approve more than the $150 million endorsed Friday, to guarantee that Metro gets as much as it says it needs.

Still, the bill’s advance in Annapolis is a sign of the political momentum that has brought Metro closer than ever to gaining earmarked funding comparable to what other major transit systems in the nation enjoy.

Hogan sought to claim credit for the progress on Metro, as Chasse said the governor “was the first regional leader to propose a real solution to increase funding for Metro, and it is great news that the bill moving forward incorporates nearly all of his original plan.”

But in endorsing the House bill, Hogan showed flexibility by making concessions on several points.

In the fall, he proposed that Maryland would give Metro $125 million a year for four years if Virginia, D.C. and the federal government each did the same.

Hogan now has agreed to raise the state’s contribution to $150 million and to make the funding permanent. Metro has said the long-term commitment is critical, because it allows the revenue to be “bondable,” which means usable as collateral to borrow on financial markets.

Hogan also backed away from his previous insistence that Maryland would contribute extra money only if the federal government increased its contributions as well. His office said he would not give up that fight.

“The governor will continue to push for increased federal funding given that over 40 percent of Metro riders are federal workers,” Chasse said.

The Maryland proposal to give Metro $150 million a year falls short of efforts by the transit agency and its supporters to persuade Maryland to approve $167 million. That would be Maryland’s share of a $500 million package, under an existing Metro formula for dividing the burden among the three jurisdictions.

Under that formula, Virginia would contribute $154 million, and the District would provide $179 million.

After extensive consultations, Maryland House leadership decided it could not go as high as $167 million, partly because of competing demands for transportation dollars for highways and the Baltimore transit system.

“Everybody understood that $125 [million] wasn’t enough,” said Del. Kumar P. Barve (D-Montgomery), who chairs the Environment and Transportation Committee. “Budgetary considerations made it such that we weren’t able to stretch it up to $167 [million]. ... We’re never able to get exactly what we want, but this is a powerful step in the right direction, and I think it will create incentives necessary for all stakeholders in the region to be with us.”

A senior Virginia lawmaker and a broad coalition of Metro supporters called on Maryland to approve the full $167 million.

Virginia Senate Democratic leader Richard L. Saslaw (Fairfax) said he would be pressing in the conference committee for Virginia to approve its full share of $154 million a year — which would in turn imply that Maryland would have to allocate $167 million under the formula.

“They [in Maryland] are going to have to come up with more money,” Saslaw said. “We [in Virginia] need to wind up at $154 million. There’s no ‘ifs,’ ‘ands’ or ‘buts’ about it.”

The MetroNow coalition, which represents a broad array of business, environmental and civic groups, made a similar appeal to Maryland. The coalition said it “remains in strong support” of a total of $500 million under the existing formula.

“This amount is the minimum needed to avoid further deterioration of service, to replace all aging components, begin addressing leaking Red Line tunnels, and restore the system to frequent and reliable service,” MetroNow said.

A related issue is that Virginia typically wants the District and Maryland to contribute more than it does under the formula, based on factors including population, ridership and number of Metro stations. So the Annapolis proposal — where each jurisdiction contributes $150 million or more — could seem unfair to Richmond.

However, there is precedent for the three jurisdictions to split the cost equally. They each contribute $50 million a year so that together they match a federal subsidy of $150 million.