The Metro board came under assault from two sides as Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) called on board Chairman Jack Evans to resign on Friday, a day after former U.S. transportation secretary Ray LaHood urged replacing the 16-member body because of a need for “new blood, new thinking.”
Hogan and Evans have been at odds for more than a year over both policy disputes and Evans’s outspoken rhetoric, which Hogan’s spokeswoman labeled as “juvenile outbursts.”
The governor’s office urged the chairman’s resignation in a two-sentence, written statement when asked for a routine response to the LaHood plan to replace the Metro board with a temporary, five-member reform body.
“As the governor has said, he is open to reforming the [Metro] board,” said Amelia Chasse, Hogan’s deputy communications director.
“In the meantime, Jack Evans stepping down would be a great place to start given his continued juvenile outbursts that have been getting in the way of progress for a long time,” she said.
The resignation call came after LaHood made a strong pitch Thursday night for a temporary reform board to oversee Metro as a way to end infighting among jurisdictions and rein in the agency’s long-term pension and benefit costs.
Previewing a much-anticipated report that he will issue later this month, LaHood defended his plan before an openly skeptical group of Northern Virginia officials, including several Metro board members who would lose their positions under his proposals.
“I know when you make a recommendation like I’m making, you’re bound to offend somebody,” LaHood said. But he said radical action is necessary to restore confidence in Metro and win political support for additional funding.
“We need new blood, new thinking, new direction from people who don’t have parochial interests,” LaHood said at a regularly scheduled meeting of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission.
The one-two punch from LaHood and Hogan seemed likely to plunge the region into an intense debate over changing the board.
Evans and other officials, including Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova (D), expressed concern that a dispute over governance would delay efforts to find an extra $500 million a year that Metro says it needs for safety and reliability.
Chasse, asked for examples of what she called Evans’s “outbursts,” pointed to a statement by Evans in November that Hogan’s resistance to increased funding meant the governor was “starving” the transit system and “doesn’t really care about Metro.”
Chasse also cited a clash that Evans had with Virginia leaders after he endorsed a suggestion to save money for Metro by canceling the second phase of extending the Silver Line to Dulles International Airport and Loudoun County.
Finally, she cited a call that Evans made Friday to Virginia’s lieutenant governor, Ralph Northam (D), while Northam was taking calls during a radio appearance on “The Kojo Nnamdi Show” on WAMU 88.5 FM.
Evans asked Northam, who is running for governor, whether he would support a penny-per-dollar regionwide sales tax to fund Metro, which Evans described as the “only option” for the transit agency. Northam said he supported dedicated funding for Metro but said there are other options.
Hogan has also clashed with Evans over the sales tax proposal, which Hogan opposes.
Evans, who is also a Democratic D.C. Council member, representing Ward 2, said he had “no intention of resigning, not today, anyway.” He said he was at odds with Hogan and others because of his repeated, strongly worded statements that the region was not acting quickly enough to raise additional funds for Metro.
“I think what is off-putting to everyone who listens is they don’t want to hear what I’m saying,” he said.
Hogan recently proposed a plan to raise an additional $2 billion for Metro over four years with equal contributions from Maryland, Virginia, the District and the federal government. Evans and others have welcomed Maryland’s willingness to contribute more, but said Hogan’s proposal does not provide a permanent, dedicated funding source that Metro needs.
Earlier, Northern Virginia officials objected to LaHood’s proposal thatFairfax, Arlington and Alexandria would all lose direct representation on the Metro board — at least for the three years that the reform board would be in place.
Under the LaHood plan, the Virginia governor would appoint the state’s only board member. The Maryland governor, the District’s mayor and the U.S. transportation secretary would each also appoint one member, and those four would select a fifth person to be chairman.
The Northern Virginia officials argued that they should not lose board representation, given that their local jurisdictions — not the state — contribute much of Virginia’s funding for Metro.
Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) appointed LaHood in March to try to forge a regional agreement on reforming Metro’s governance and raising additional funds.
LaHood wants to overhaul the board both by shrinking it and barring elected officials from serving on it.
The commission members who heard LaHood’s presentation Thursday included three board members who are elected officials: Fairfax Supervisor Catherine M. Hudgins (D-Hunter Mill), Arlington Board member Christian Dorsey (D) and Alexandria Council member Paul C. Smedberg (D).
LaHood said that one reason for barring elected officials would be to have members who are willing to make unpopular decisions — such as restraining growth of pensions and benefits.
“Under the current board, it’s impossible to get at legacy costs,” he said.