DC businesses: 'Please, tax us.'

Business leaders join forces to show support for WMATA economic and political reforms
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WASHINGTON — Impatient with the progress politicians are making, the greater Washington, D.C., business community is stepping up pressure for reform of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's governance structure and annual funding.

On June 16, 21 chambers of commerce and related business groups from the District, Virginia, and Maryland published a letter calling for a “right sizing” of the WMATA board of directors, and a dedicated source of money for capital and operational spending.

“We really need an agreement soon, because time is ticking, and Metro needs this for their 2019 budget year,” said Jim Dinegar, president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade. “2019 comes up a whole lot sooner in legislative time than people think.”

Preparation begins in July for bills that will to go before lawmakers in Maryland and Virginia at the start of 2018 legislative sessions, Dinegar said.

“We're getting to the point of real concern that waiting on the legislators to come up with a solution has not produced anything. We need to have action,” Dinegar said.

The letter is the consensus of a diverse group of business interests, and the reforms are broadly outlined. It states that the WMATA board should be the “right size” without specifying the number of members or their affiliations. However, last September WMATA Chairman Jack Evans called for reducing the 16-member board to five members.

In April, WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld issued a report calling for $500 million per year in dedicated funding. The agency now receives annual payments allocated by D.C., Maryland, Virginia, and the federal government.

Evans and the D.C. Council favor a dedicated sales tax to fund Metro, but Dinegar said that the business groups are not asking for a commitment for a single solution for all jurisdictions. He said the advantage of a sales tax is WMATA's ability to issue bonds against future tax revenue.

“The magic of a sales tax is its ability to be bonded, but if the jurisdictions can come up with their funds in different ways, the money is still green, and Metro still needs it,” Dinegar said. “We are impatiently waiting for the alternatives to be provided. People need to sit at the table and come to an agreement.”

In March, WMATA approved a $1.8 billion budget for 2018, but passengers on the Metro subway system face a reduced schedule and a fare increase that goes into effect July 1.

Dinegar said there's a “scream from commuters” about changes that cost more for less service. “For the business community, these are our employees. We want them to get to work on time, and safely, and home on time.

“This is the economic engine for the region. This is a critical opportunity and requirement for the region,” Dinegar said. “The business community, not the legislators, will bear the brunt of that regional sales tax. And we're saying, 'Please, tax us.'”

NEWSWIRETrains News Wire

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