Northern Virginia’s top elected officials said Wednesday that they will ask the General Assembly to revise the landmark Metro funding deal to recover tens of millions for road projects — money that was diverted to the transit system.
And Gov. Ralph Northam (D) supports the idea.
Officials say the money is needed to avoid slowing or killing projects to widen roads, upgrade intersections and support other transportation improvements in the traffic-choked Washington suburbs.
They don’t want to take the money from Metro; they want to find a new source of funding.
“When we lost that money, we lost the ability to do [many] road projects in Northern Virginia,” Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) told a forum Wednesday. “The energy up here to push back and to readdress the transportation bill is going to be robust,” she said, gesturing to her counterparts from Fairfax, Prince William and Arlington counties and the city of Alexandria.
Under the historic funding deal, Virginia will give Metro $154 million a year in permanent, new funding, which when combined with contributions from the District and Maryland totals $500 million a year for the transit agency.
Just over $100 million of Virginia’s share comes from diverting funds from existing transportation projects.
Northam spokeswoman Ofirah Yheskel said Wednesday that the governor continues to favor a proposal, defeated by Republicans last spring, to raise taxes on real estate transactions and hotel stays in Northern Virginia to reduce the drain on road projects.
But Northam also “is willing to consider other possible remedies in future [General Assembly] sessions,” Yheskel said.
That openness reflects the political reality that Republicans are unlikely to support tax increases in an election year; the full House of Delegates and Senate are up for reelection in 2019.
“I look forward to seeking more funding for transportation without imposing more taxes on already overburdened [Northern Virginia] families,” Del. Tim Hugo (R-Fairfax), who led the GOP effort in the spring to block the tax increases, said Wednesday.
Northern Virginia leaders were thrilled in March when Richmond endorsed the deal to give Metro $500 million a year in dedicated funding for the first time in the agency’s history.
But they were simultaneously dismayed that the deal obtained the bulk of Virginia’s share from revenue pledged mostly to major road projects in Northern Virginia.
“It was not new money from the state. It was our money that was just reallocated to Metro,” Fairfax Board of Supervisors Chair Sharon Bulova (D-At Large) said Wednesday. “We will be advocating for doing something about it.”
Projects that have received only partial funding as a result of the deal include improvements to Route 1 in Dumfries, Route 28 in Prince William, the West End Transitway in Alexandria, Rock Hill Road Bridge in Fairfax and Loudoun, the Crystal City Metro station in Arlington, the Frontier Drive extension in Fairfax, and the Route 15 Leesburg Bypass/Edwards Ferry Road in Leesburg, according to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority.
Prince William Board of Supervisors Chair Corey A. Stewart (R) said he also supports restoring the road funding but did not say whether he would back tax increases to do so. He said the money that was diverted was raised by a 2013 tax increase that Northern Virginians supported because they were promised it would go to fix roads.
“That promise was broken by the General Assembly” in the “terribly flawed” Metro bill, said Stewart, who also is the Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate.
Taxes are at the core of the dispute, as is usually the case in Northern Virginia’s disputes with Richmond over transportation.
Republicans went along with a plan to raise about $22 million a year for Metro by increasing wholesale gasoline taxes in Northern Virginia. But they blocked proposals to raise about $75 million by increasing two other taxes, which also would have fallen only on Northern Virginians.
One was the grantor’s tax — usually paid by home sellers — which would have increased by five cents per $100 of sales price and added about $250 to the cost of selling a house worth $500,000. The increase would have raised about $45 million a year for Metro.
The other proposal was to increase the transient occupancy tax to 3 percent from 2 percent. That would increase the tax on a $200 hotel bill by $2, raising about $30 million.
The House killed both proposals in a party-line vote on the final day of the 2018 legislative session.
“What was so frustrating . . . is that we had a strong proposal on the table that would have represented new revenue sources from Northern Virginia,” Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol (D) said. “Unfortunately, ideology prevailed in the General Assembly.”
Bulova said she would like to see both tax proposals revived but at a minimum wants to get the $45 million from raising the tax on real estate transactions.
Randall said that she also supports both tax proposals but that some of the money could come from the state’s recently reported budget surplus.