Members of the Maryland General Assembly are presently considering three bills that will provide additional funding to the Metro system while also improving oversight. The bills are an important part of the regional effort to secure dedicated funding for WMATA.
Here’s what’s on the table
The three bills being considered during the current 90-day legislative session are: the Maryland Metro Funding Act (HB372), the Metro Board Member Act (HB370), and the Metro Oversight Enhancement Act (HB1089).
The Maryland Metro Funding Act and Metro Board Member Act is sponsored by Delegate Marc Korman, while the Metro Oversight Enhancement Act is sponsored by Delegate Erek Barron, both of whom co-chair the WMATA-Metro Work Group at the General Assembly. All three bills are cross-filed by Senator Brian Feldman in the Maryland Senate.
- Maryland Metro Funding Act
The Maryland Metro Funding Act is Maryland’s proposal for a permanent dedicated funding stream for WMATA. In September, Governor Larry Hogan proposed an additional $125 million per year for WMATA from the Maryland Transportation Trust Fund (TTF) for only four years. The Metro Funding Act builds on that proposal by establishing a permanent, dedicated revenue source from an account within the TTF of $125 million per year to Metro in addition to the funds Maryland currently supplies to Metro.
The additional and dedicated funding prescribed in the Funding Act is dependent on Virginia and DC establishing their own dedicated sources totaling at least $125 million. Negotiations with Hogan’s office regarding the funding figure are ongoing.
- Metro Board Member Act
The Metro Board Member Act (HB370) would alter the makeup of Maryland’s members of the WMATA Board of Directors. Currently, Maryland’s two principal board members are residents of either Montgomery or Prince George’s counties and appointed by the Governor, while the two alternate members are selected by the Montgomery and Prince George’s County executives, respectively. The WMATA Board members from Maryland do not formally have staff to aid them in their duties aside from the little known Washington Suburban Transit Commission, which is staffed by only two people.
The Board Member Act would require the Maryland Secretary of Transportation or their designee to serve on the Board as one of the principal members, with the other principal member being a resident of either Montgomery or Prince George’s counties, alternating between the two. The aim of the legislation is to enhance political accountability on the Board by ensuring that one of the member is either the Secretary of Transportation or an employee of the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT). This change will also guarantee that the Board members have staff and resources at their disposal through MDOT. The Act does not affect appointment process of the alternate directors.
- Metro Oversight Enhancement Act
Delegate Barron’s Metro Oversight Enhancement Act (HB1089) also aims to improve governance at WMATA. The Oversight Enhancement Act will require that the WMATA Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has the independence need to monitor WMATA’s operations for instances of waste, fraud, and abuse.
Last fall, a US Senate committee inquiry revealed that the OIG’s computers were being monitored by others within WMATA and that OIG current operations were not sufficient to perform effective investigations of Metro’s safety issues. The committee agreed that the OIG needs more independence from WMATA to be an effective watchdog of the agency.
The Oversight Enhancement Act also requires that 5 percent of WMATA’s annual operating budget go towards funding the OIG to create a steady stream of funding for the office. Given that the Act requires altering the role of the OIG as outlined in the WMATA Compact, the Act will only be effective if Virginia and DC pass similar legislation of their own.
These bills are part of a regional Metro effort
These three bills represent Maryland’s portion of the regional effort to secure dedicated funding for WMATA and enhance oversight at the agency. In Virginia, bills have also been introduced in their General Assembly that would establish some form of dedicated funding for WMATA with accompanying oversight and governance changes. The Virginia General Assembly is only convened from January through March of each year, with adjournment on March 10. Additionally, the Maryland General Assembly is also a part-time legislature, with the current legislative session ending on April 9.
In the Maryland General Assembly, the Metro Funding Act and Metro Board Member Act were both heard in committee in the House and Senate earlier this month and are awaiting a vote out of committee. The Oversight Enhancement Act is scheduled for a hearing in committee later this week. The bill in the Virginia General Assembly both passed “crossover” (the deadline for bills passed by the House to move to the Senate and vice-versa) two weeks ago and are expected to move this week as their session draws to a close.
Could things be different this time?
The next few weeks will be a critical time for both the state and the commonwealth to pass legislation that will provide WMATA with the additional funding that General Manager Paul Wiedefeld has said the agency needs to prevent further service cuts later this spring. The DC Council meets year round and there is less urgency on that front, with the Council awaiting the results of the Virginia and Maryland legislative sessions before deciding next steps.
While the specifics of the legislation in both assemblies are not yet concrete, it is looking more and more likely that each legislature will pass some form of legislation providing additional funding to WMATA and reforming the oversight and governance structure of the agency. The details of the bills will be the subject of much deliberation and negotiation in the coming weeks, but it is clear that regional leaders understand the urgency of doing something to improve WMATA.
The WMATA Compact was signed more than 50 years ago, but 2018 may be the year that WMATA finally secures the dedicated funding stream it has long needed.