Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) said Wednesday that he will propose a dedicated funding source for Metro when he presents his final budget as governor in December, but his pledge appears largely symbolic because he will step down in January and leave the next governor and legislature to decide on the measure.
McAuliffe and D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) both emphasized that Metro needs a permanent, earmarked revenue source — which typically means a tax — in remarks at a breakfast forum Wednesday before a large audience of regional business leaders at MGM National Harbor.
Their comments underlined the gap between their stance and that of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), who recently proposed a plan to raise $2 billion over four years in additional money for Metro but did not call for dedicated funding. Hogan has ruled out raising taxes statewide for Metro.
McAuliffe did not explicitly endorse a new tax or say how much additional money he wants to raise, but he said his budget will include some form of dedicated funding. He said he is willing to do so because Metro has improved its performance, especially regarding its governance.
"I think we have made great progress" with Metro, McAuliffe said. "I will prepare my budget in December . . . and I will put dedicated funding in it. I will decide what makes sense for us in Virginia in how we do it, but we've got the governance piece."
McAuliffe sees progress on governance because of the recent recommendation by former U.S. transportation secretary Ray LaHood to replace the , 16-member Metro board with a five-member "reform board" for three years. McAuliffe recruited LaHood in the spring to try to build a regional accord on Metro.
But LaHood won't make a detailed proposal on shrinking the board until he presents his final report next month. Hogan has said legal reasons may make it difficult or impossible to change the board the way LaHood has proposed, and Bowser has said she wants to hear more details.
In her comments Wednesday, Bowser reaffirmed her strong support for dedicated funding. But she adopted a softer tone by suggesting that each jurisdiction could choose its own way of raising the money.
In the past, Bowser has urged a penny-per-dollar regionwide sales tax to fund Metro. Senior officials in both Virginia and Maryland have rejected that for varying reasons.
Calling for dedicated funding is not "hysterical or outlandish," Bowser said. "Every system like ours has a dedicated funding source. . . . The jurisdictions may come to that decision differently . . . but we need to be able to have dedicated funding for the system."
Bowser also said that she, McAuliffe and Hogan ought to solve the problem now, because it's not certain any of them will still be in office by early 2019. Both Bowser and Hogan are up for reelection next year.
"It is possible that we would have all new players [after] next year, so why don't we step up to the plate right now and make the tough decisions that can save our region?" Bowser said.
Asked about McAuliffe's and Bowser's comments, Hogan spokesman Doug Mayer urged them to endorse the Maryland governor's funding proposal. It calls for Maryland, Virginia, the District and the federal government to raise their contributions to Metro by a total of $500 million each over four years.
Hogan's proposal "is not only the most realistic plan on the table, but it's in fact the only plan on the table," Mayer said. "The time for talk and obfuscation is over — we must join together and take the direct action that is needed to preserve and protect Metro for years to come."
A Washington official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue, said the city may have to accept Hogan's plan as an interim step to buy time to build support for dedicated funding.
"Shall we take it while we get dedicated revenue in place? Maybe. But we have to get to dedicated revenue," the official said.