Highway Robbery? Supervisors Voice Objections to State’s Transportation Funding Bills

Highway Robbery? Supervisors Voice Objections to State’s Transportation Funding Bills

A budgetary sleight-of-hand in Richmond over transportation funding could cost Loudoun County millions of dollars in road project allocations.

At stake is the establishment of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, which would oversee projects around or relating to Metro lines and extensions. Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia are all involved in funding and spending decisions, and reaching common ground among those three is difficult in itself.

Factor in the various county, regional and municipal bodies being asked to contribute – and, therefore, expecting their slice of the pie – and the result has been a budgetary minefield.

Virginia’s share of the WMATA funding is $154 million, and parallel bills in the House of Delegates would divert money from the Northern Virginia Transit Authority, which was created by the House of Delegates in 2013 as a way for Northern Virginia communities to tax residents to work together on funding for transportation projects that would be beneficial region-wide.

The supervisors heard reports at their last two meetings from Gwen Kennedy, deputy Loudoun County administrator who follows legislation in the Virginia House of Delegates. Based on those reports, supervisors are concerned the loss of funds from NVTA could derail important local projects.

House Bill HB 1539 and Senate Bill SB 856 vary slightly, but both would divert funds from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority.

According to Kennedy’s report to the board, SB 856 would divert $62 million and HB 1539 would divert $76 million from NVTA to WMATA.

“Any reduction in NVTA funding will require significant funding source and schedule changes to major transportation projects,” Kennedy wrote in her report to the board. “Decreases … would require the County to use other sources, such as local tax funding or debt service, to pay for the WMATA capital contribution. This would take funding sources away from other needs in the County, including debt capacity needed by the County to finance other capital projects. “

Specifically, the loss of funds could significantly impact road projects such as the Dulles West Boulevard, Northstar Boulevard, Evergreen Mills Road, Prentice Road, and Route 15 North to Montressor Road.

In a straw poll taken in February and confirmed at the board’s Feb. 22 business meeting, the supervisors voted 9-0 to oppose HB 1539. While not completely satisfied with the senate version, it would be better for constituents of Loudoun County. The bills are in currently in conference committee, which includes members of both houses and attempts to eliminate the difference and consolidate them into one bills for consideration for both bodies.

“It’s a lose-lose,” said Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau of the Dulles District. “We’re better off with nothing at all than HB 1539. The old saying is you shouldn’t rob Peter to pay Paul and that’s what’s happening here.

“We’re diverting too much money away from NVTA and after all that, we don’t even reach the amount we need to fund Virginia’s share of Metro funding. We’re going to lose a significant amount of our NVTA contribution and we’re still going to have to come up with even more money.”

At its Feb. 6 business meeting, the board approved its position on WMATA funding as follows:

  • At least two-thirds of additional WMATA Capital funding, or $100 million, should come from the Commonwealth as a whole.
  • A funding commitment beyond the 2-year budget be considered.
  • The Gas Tax floor should be adopted and provided through the existing mechanism to NVTC, and then to the Northern Virginia localities.
  • No funding should be diverted from Item 450 High Priority Projects Program, Construction District Grants Program (Smart Scale) or other distributions to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority.
  • New or additional statewide funding sources should be considered. Generally speaking, northern Virginia specific funding proposals are less favorable than statewide sources.
    Similar to the Gas Tax, any new revenue collected from within a jurisdiction and sent to NVTC should be credited to each jurisdiction for WMATA Capital expenses by the amount collected in that jurisdiction.
  • Additional funding for WMATA should be contingent on reforms to the organization’s governance, operations, and expenses consistent with NVTC Resolution #2342, NVTC Principles for WMATA Reform, located in Attachment 2 of Item 3 in the February 6, 2018, Board of Supervisors Business Meeting Action Item.

Kennedy gave an update on the two bills at the supervisors’ business meeting Tuesday (March 6).

“The bills are in conference and we met with some of those conferees and some of our own delegation what we think can help us in getting our message across,” Kennedy said. “We made sure we were very clear about the positions of this board. We made it clear we wanted to get to the $154 million if possible and that we get more state funding.

“The other issue about how the funding is taking from NVTA 30 percent. If it’s taken off the top as it is in the House bill, that would have a huge impact on the county. At this point I’m not sure if we are going to get to the 154 million or not. However, once we see what the package looks like and it gets passed by the house and senate, the governor also has the opportunity to do some things and propsed some amendment.

The current session for the House of Delegates is scheduled to end Saturday. Kennedy said that is not likely as issues like WMATA and the entire state budget are still being negotiated and decided.

“We’re hearing it (final wording on the WMATA funding bills) is going to go until Saturday morning,” Kennedy said. “We probably won’t know anything until Saturday.

“With regard to the budget, we are hearing that it might not be done by Saturday. They are very far apart in terms of the house and senate versions.”

Kennedy said the House of Delegates has two options if work is not completed by Saturday.

“I’m not sure if they will just be a couple of days over, or if they will adjourn and them come back at a later time,” she said.

Joseph Dill