Members of the Board of Supervisors’ finance committee have approached with trepidation a budget proposal by former Governor Terry McAuliffe to fill Virginia’s Metro funding gap that, according to a county analysis, would raise taxes and strip transportation funding from Loudoun.
As part of Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld’s plans to get Metro back into good repair, Virginia is expecting to contribute around $150 million more each year. Where that money will come from has been a source of debate, such as around a proposal for a regional sales tax which was met with opposition from Virginia leaders.
McAuliffe’s proposal would set a floor on the regional gas tax, raise a tax on real estate transactions, and raise the hotel tax.
It would also dedicate 35 percent of all Northern Virginia Transportation Authority revenues to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. The NVTA is a major source of funding for transportation projects in the region, doling out hundreds of millions in funding each year. Loudoun has relied on NVTA funding to stretch its own transportation budget.
County staff estimate that the governor’s proposal would carve $21.3 million out of Loudoun’s transportation funding compared to the alternative.
Finance committee Chairman Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) said the fundamental problem with the proposal is that it doesn’t actually spend any state money.
“But as they are quick to point out, that’s not necessarily their choice,” Letourneau said. “That’s the hand that they’re dealt from the General Assembly, that doesn’t want to put any money into Metro and to Northern Virginia in general because the numbers aren’t there for how many votes they can get.”
A major part of the problem is in the difference between how Loudoun pays into NVTA and Metro. Loudoun is responsible for 7.5 percent of Virginia’s share of Metro costs, but about 18 percent of NVTA funding—so paying out of NVTA means Loudoun is paying a bigger share.
County Administrator Tim Hemstreet has proposed an alternative solution—a contract between Metro jurisdictions that would allow Metro to sell general obligation bonds, like most large transit systems and governments, rather than paying cash for every project—but Letourneau said that idea has so far not found much traction with other localities.
“In order for it to work, the contributions have to be cash, and their numbers are so big that they don’t think they can make it work,” Letourneau said. “Now under a service contract model, the numbers go down considerably, and that’s the piece of it that I think a lot of them aren’t understanding.”
And county Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) said that the sea change wrought in the General Assembly by the 2017 election could open up more possibilities in Richmond.
“I’m not saying I advocate it one way or the other, but I wouldn’t say some of these things wouldn’t be possible now that weren’t possible before,” Randall said.