Prince William supervisors blast McAuliffe’s Metro financing plan

Prince William supervisors blast McAuliffe’s Metro financing plan

Prince William County supervisors are condemning Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s proposal to establish a dedicated funding source for the Metrorail system, blasting the outgoing governor’s suggestions as unrealistic for both the county and the region as a whole.

The Board of County Supervisors unanimously passed a resolution Tuesday that lays out its own priorities to take to state lawmakers as they prepare to work with Gov.-elect Ralph Northam to find $150 million to contribute to Metro each year, in order to fund the system’s persistent maintenance and construction needs. Metro has struggled with the issue for years, repeatedly urging leaders in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C., to collaborate on some sort of dedicated revenue stream for the system.

Pointedly, supervisors spurned McAuliffe’s plans to raise taxes in Northern Virginia localities — bumping up the gas tax, levies on hotel stays and taxes on real estate transactions — to generate about an additional $65 million each year. McAuliffe, who will give way to Northam on Jan. 13, proposed directing another $85 million annually to Metro from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority, a regional body focused on traffic issues.

Vice Chair Marty Nohe, R-Coles, doubles as the chairman of the NVTA, and he introduced the resolution so the board could take a firm stand on the issue before lawmakers return to Richmond and kick off a new session Wednesday.

While his resolution does support the concept of “dedicated funding” for Metro, the document also stressed that the county wants to see the whole state take a bigger role in chipping in cash for the system, echoing a similar resolution passed by the Manassas City Council on Jan. 8.

“You can’t take all of this from Northern Virginia; there has got to be a state component,” Nohe said in an interview. “Northern Virginia definitely has a role to play, maybe even a big one…but this is a big reach.”

Nohe noted that the entire state benefits from the commercial real estate taxes that flow into state coffers from companies looking to locate near Metro stations. He appreciates that’s a difficult argument to make to lawmakers in rural parts of the state, but it’s one he wants to see Northam and his fellow Democrats embrace as they pick up McAuliffe’s proposal. A spokesperson for Northam didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the issue.

For his part, McAuliffe has painted his effort as a much-needed first step in getting Virginia to do its part to reverse Metro’s flagging ridership numbers and end the persistent delays due to maintenance that have plagued the system. Nohe certainly gives the outgoing governor credit for proposing tax increases as part of that proposal, noting that such a move certainly requires political courage, even if he doesn’t fully agree with all of what McAuliffe suggested.

However, Nohe is most troubled by the changes McAuliffe is envisioning for the NVTA. The group currently collects taxes from throughout the region, then uses that money to fund costly road projects around Northern Virginia.

Should the NVTA need to send $85 million of the roughly $330 million it pulls in each year to Metro, Nohe believes that would “devastate our program” for funding local road improvements. That would necessarily hurt localities like Prince William, particularly because the county doesn’t have any Metro stations and would be losing out on money for road improvements without seeing any direct benefits.

“We need this funding for our other road projects,” Nohe said.

For instance, the county is hoping to someday get money from the NVTA to fund improvements along Va. 28 through western Prince William. In his “state of the county” speech Jan. 9, Republican At-Large Chairman Corey Stewart also declared that the “time for studying Route 28 is over” and demanded that state and regional lawmakers fund a fix for the “bottleneck.”

Nohe also worries that McAuliffe’s proposal could affect the NVTA’s financial stability, or even run it afoul of its constitutionally defined purpose as a “special tax district.”

“We were created for a specific purpose, which is taking this tax money and directing it to road projects; now we’d be giving it to Metro,” Nohe said. “There may be an issue of legality there. It makes us nervous when we start off in this sort of territory.”

That’s why Nohe believes there’s “a lot of room for negotiation” on the issue, and his initial negotiations with state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle left him optimistic that the General Assembly will be able to strike some sort of compromise that addresses these concerns from both the county and the NVTA.

“Everyone is ready to work together on this,” Nohe said.

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Erma Campos