Whatever else Larry Hogan accomplishes as Maryland’s governor — and so far, despite deft political instincts, his substantive achievements are modest — his time in office will be a failure if he causes or allows Metro’s financial collapse. Yet this is the likely effect of the stance Mr. Hogan took in recent negotiations among the transit system’s three regional stakeholders on its financial future. Let’s hope it was merely an opening gambit.
For Metro to pull out of its tailspin of inadequate maintenance, pitiable reliability and deteriorating safety, it needs what every other major subway in the United States has: a dedicated, reliable source of annual local funding. For that to happen, the top elected officials of Maryland, Virginia and the District must agree on a plan.
That would have been difficult enough even if all three — D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and Mr. Hogan (R) — were on board with the basic and undeniable fact that Metro’s death spiral portends disaster. Unfortunately, Mr. Hogan made clear last week that as far as he is concerned, Metro can continue to wither and die.
In a three-way summit, Mr. Hogan told his counterparts that he would oppose any further funding from Maryland for the nation’s second-busiest transit system. Stunned by his adamance — he is reported to have said the system consumes 11 percent of the state’s capital spending on transit though just 2 percent of Marylanders ride it — other officials at the meeting leaked his comments to The Post.
Mr. Hogan’s analysis is tissue-thin and upside-down. Montgomery County, the state’s leading engine of economic vitality, depends heavily on Metro; the subway’s demise would decimate the county’s businesses and tax base, along with Maryland’s. Think Mr. Hogan has trouble balancing the state’s budget now? Wait till he tries it with the county’s economy stalled, which would be the inevitable consequence of the subway’s continuing deterioration.
Decades of neglect and can-kicking by the region’s elected officials have left the transit system badly underfunded — hence the maintenance and safety meltdowns for which it has become notorious. The buck-passing finally stopped with Metro’s current general manager, Paul J. Wiedefeld, who launched a track safety program and slashed staffing, spending and service. He then warned that without additional earmarked annual revenue of at least $500 million, Metro’s long-term decline could no longer be forestalled. He also suggested that without those funds — a bailout for a failing system — he would be moving on to another job. And who could blame him for wanting to get off a sinking ship?
Mr. Hogan seems unfazed by those warnings. Perhaps concerned with his GOP base, mainly rural and exurban voters far from the Washington suburbs, he delivered his verdict: not another dime from Annapolis for Metro.
That’s not just penny-wise and pound-foolish. It’s an inexcusable abdication of leadership. Facing reelection next year, Mr. Hogan is broadly popular and at no risk of a primary challenge. Any Democrat who runs against him would be foolish to oppose Metro funding. What is Mr. Hogan so scared of? The stakes are clear. It’s not just his governorship that’s at risk; it’s the region itself.