Fighting for Northern Virginia on Metro Board

By Kytja Weir

Two Virginia members of Congress accused the state's governor of "budgetary blackmail" on Thursday for threatening to withhold $50 million in funding for Metro unless the state can appoint two members to the Metro board, saying the move could unravel a regional deal involving millions more in desperately needed funding and safety improvements.

Reps. Gerry Connolly and Jim Moran, both Democrats, wrote a letter to Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell stressing "serious concerns" about the proposal to give two of the four Virginia board slots to political appointees instead of elected officials from Northern Virginia.

They specifically disputed the McDonnell administration's claim that the commonwealth deserved half the positions as it was contributing 52 percent of the overall $249 million in state and local subsidies for the pending $2.1 billion Metro budget, which starts July 1.

They argue that Northern Virginia riders' fares and parking fees are not included in those numbers, thus underestimating how much local residents are contributing.

Furthermore, Connolly told The Washington Examiner, that the $50 million the state is threatening to withhold comes from revenue paid by Northern Virginia drivers through the 2 percent gas tax.

"I know who pays the bills. It's local taxpayers, not Richmond, not the commonwealth," Connolly said. "This is our own money that Virginia is suddenly laying claim to."

Withholding the money, which is Virginia's share of a $150 million annual local match to $150 million in federal funding, could cause the other jurisdictions to pull out of the 10-year "dedicated funding" agreement, they said.

Connolly said they are not opposed to changing how Virginia representatives are added to the Metro board but questioned the timing of the move. He also said if Virginia ponied up more money, as Maryland does, he would be more open to giving the state some direct representation on the board.

Transit advocates, however, have argued that elected officials are more responsive and accessible to riders than appointees.

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