Sen. Mark R. Warner, still smarting over the drubbing he took 13 years ago in a transportation-funding referendum, won’t be pushing for a new regional sales tax to fund much-needed Metro improvements.
Warner (D-Va.), pressed by Washington Post congressional correspondent Mike DeBonis on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” program Sunday, showed little appetite for a rematch of the great Northern Virginia transportation tax fight of 2002.
A regional sales tax, which would cover the Virginia, Maryland and the District, is among the proposals for dedicated funding for Metro.
“As somebody who got my tail whopped when I advocated” upping the sales tax in Northern Virginia from 4.5 percent to 5 percent for transportation early in his term as governor, Warner said, “I’m not going to weigh in on that.”
Opponents defeated the 2002 tax-hike proposal with 55 percent of the vote. It would have raised an estimated $5 billion over two decades for roads and transit, including Metro.
Then-Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.) eventually helped engineer increased federal support for Metro. In 2008, Congress passed a bill authorizing $1.5 billion in federal spending on Metro over 10 years, contingent on local matching funds. And in 2013, Virginia passed a new transportation-funding package after what proponents called a decades-long drought.
But the aging Metro system’s needs have outpaced funding.
“Let’s face it. We had the brightest, shiniest, newest Metro in America 40 years ago. That system has aged,” Warner said on C-SPAN.
Warner warned of attempts in the House of Representatives to slash funding to Metro.
“We’ve seen members of the House want to cut the federal government’s commitment,” Warner said. “If we we’re going to cut that, you potentially put Metro into a semi-death-spiral, because that means Metro then has to increase the fare…That means less people ride. That means you’re in more financial duress.”
Warner said Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld’s day-long Metro safety shutdown last month was the “right shot across all our bows” – meaning ridership, policy makers, and Metro employees – and a clear message that an insufficient focus on safety “will not be tolerated.”
He said the region’s Congressional delegation must stand ready to block any efforts to reduce funding for the system, which serves as vital local transportation link and as “the nation’s Metro system, in terms of people visiting our national capital region.”
But in terms of additional, Metro-specific transportation funding, Warner said on C-SPAN, “I think it’s too early to judge on that, until we see, candidly, continued improvements in terms of the operations and safety culture.”