Several faith- and community-based organizations say Metro needs $1 billion a year in dedicated funding, and they’ve come up with a proposal that includes a mix of sales, gas and property taxes that leaders say will beef up service levels and preserve jobs while addressing the system’s long-term needs.
Scores of grass-roots activists with the Metro Industrial Areas Foundation packed a downtown church Sunday to rally support and present the plan — a medley of investment and savings proposals without the labor concessions sought by Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld and politicians.
Possible sources of the $1 billion include a 1 percent sales tax, which would raise about $650 million a year; a “fare share tax” on land within a half-mile of Metro stations, which would raise $60 million to $150 million depending on the amount, and a 1 percent increase in the gas tax, which would raise about $40 million. Combined, the taxes would raise $750 million to $840 million a year, the group says. Other possible sources of revenue worth study include airport car rental fees and ticket fees at venues that are dependent on Metro, the group said.
Under the plan, $500 million would be earmarked for capital investments and $500 million for operations. With the operational investment, the group says, Metro could restore service cuts, including late-night service; fill service gaps; make fares more affordable, including things such as flat fares and subsidies for low-income riders; and avoid privatization, thus preserving jobs of Metro employees, most of whom are members of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689.
“We will defend the jobs of ATU and the workers of ATU and help lead a campaign to improve our transit system and make it better,” the group’s representative, the Rev. Lionel Edmonds said to cheers from the crowd at Mount Carmel Baptist Church.
The foundation includes Action in Montgomery, Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, People Acting Together in Howard, the Washington Interfaith Network and Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagements, representing Northern Virginia. The five organizations say they represent 200 congregations and 500,000 people from across the region.
The group is the latest among several to propose ideas to save the struggling transit agency.
Last month, Wiedefeld announced his rescue plan, which seeks major concessions from labor unions and dedicated funds from local governments to provide $500 million a year for equipment and maintenance. Wiedefeld also said Metro needs $15.5 billion over the next 10 years for investments to “remain safe and reliable.”
ATU Local 689, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, the Federal City Council and a center-right think tank, among others, also have weighed in on the system’s needs. A Democratic bill for righting the agency has been introduced in the House, and a Republican proposal seeking broader labor concessions is expected to be introduced soon.
But the Metro IAF proposal seeks the highest amount of funding of any group so far. In its analysis late last month, COG said Metro needed $650 million a year to cover capital and maintenance needs.
ATU Local 689, which opposes Wiedefeld’s plan, has proposed a “Fund It, Fix It, Make It Fair” plan that calls for a $2 flat fare and dedicated funding to restore ridership and finances. The union opposes a sales tax on grounds that it would disproportionately impact low-income workers.
The foundation is more ambivalent about Wiedefeld’s proposal, however, approving some aspects of it while opposing others. For example, they applaud the general manager’s push for $500 million a year and his proposal to cap growth in annual subsidies to Metro from the jurisdictions that fund it at 3 percent. But they are adamantly opposed to his plan to outsource some jobs, such as station managers and track inspectors on the section of the Silver Line slated to open in 2020.
Such proposals shift “middle-class jobs to working-poor jobs” the group says. The group also opposes service cuts and fare increases.
A Metro spokesman declined to comment on the proposal. Metro Board Chairman Jack Evans, who spoke at Sunday’s event, lauded the foundation for putting forth a plan, saying it bolstered calls by him and other local officials for a regionwide 1-cent sales tax.
“I actually agree with just about everything in here,” Evans said. “How realistic they are is another story.”
A plan that doesn’t include labor concessions, for example, he said, would be a tough sell in the Virginia General Assembly.
Other speakers at Sunday’s rally included former interim Metro general manager Dan Tangherlini, Metro Board member Christian Dorsey, Sen. Richard S. Madaleno Jr. (D-Montgomery) and a group of Metro workers.
Other aspects of the plan include exploring ways to save money, such as consolidating local bus services, boosting investment in bus rapid transit and filling out the staffs of some Metro departments, particularly training, to eliminate “inefficiencies.”
“Understaffing is also a driver of overtime costs,” according to the foundation’s plan.
Wiedefeld’s plan seeks to limit how overtime pay is figured into pension calculations, and shift new hires to a 401(k)-type plan instead of a pension. The foundation calls for preserving pensions for current and future front line staff.
A moment of tension came toward the end when Dorsey, who represents Arlington, said attendees will “have to make sacrifices.”
Boos erupted in the crowd, and Dorsey abruptly wrapped up his remarks. Later, Evans, in a fiery appeal, asked the crowd for their support in a regionwide sales tax.
“It’s not the workers’ fault that Metro is in the situation it is in,” he said. “The politicians in this region failed Metro. The governors failed Metro. The Congress failed Metro. The board of Metro failed Metro. The leaders of Metro failed Metro. . . . Now we’re here to fix it.”