By Hamzat Sani, Special to the AFRO
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, one of the oldest in the country, finally received “dedicated funding” after Mayor Bowser and Council Chairman Phil Mendelson signed the Dedicated Funding for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Emergency Act into effect.
“By investing in WMATA, we are investing in the future of Washington, D.C. The region has been working for years to solve the dedicated funding question, and now we finally have a path forward,” said Mayor Bowser April 13.
In attendance at the signing in the John A. Wilson Building was a deep bench of D.C. transportation stakeholders including Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, Chairman Phil Mendelson, Ward 2 Councilmember and WMATA Board Chairman Jack Evans, Ward 4 Councilmember Brandon Todd, At-Large Councilmember Anita Bonds, District Department of Transportation Director Jeff Marootian and WMATA General Manager and CEO Paul Wiedefeld.
The three page bill leaves the District responsible for $178.5 million per year for the next 40 years starting in 2019. Maryland and Virginia kick in $167 and $154.5 million respectively to round out the proposed $500 million in metro’s annual budget. The D.C. area’s WMATA is unique in that it is the only transit system managed by three separate jurisdictions. This trilateral system has been pointed to as a fundamental flaw in how the transit system was set-up initially.
Authored by Evans, affectionately chided by Bowser as the “Mayor of Metro,” D.C. Act 22316, establishes the WMATA Dedicated Funding Fund, which will receive retail sales tax revenue for the purposes of dedicated funding to WMATA and be administered by the Mayor. In a rare move, the bill passed through the council unanimously with council woman Elissa Silverman marked as an absent vote.
Evans was visibly jubilant over the signing and achievement of getting all three local entities to get on board. “Achieving a dedicated funding source for Metro is truly a historic occasion. With these resources, soon, Metro will be able to adequately address deferred maintenance issues with the goal of making the system reliable and safe for riders,” Evans said. “I want to thank my colleagues on the Council, Chairman Mendelson, and the Mayor for their hard work on reaching this achievement. To our counterparts in Maryland and Virginia, thank you for taking swift action to ensure the viability of Metro for the region.”
One lingering question for some is how D.C. plans to fund its proposed $178.5 million tab. Bowser laid out a proposed strategy that would include an increase in sales tax from 5.75 [IS THIS DOLLARS OR CENTS?]to 6 as well as a new tax on rideshare companies like Uber which some find controversial. Delegate noted that her work in Congress to keep $150 million in funding from the Federal Government flowing would continue. “I’m going to need all the help I can get in the congress. Now that those ten years are ended to ask for and somehow get $150 million dollars for the next ten years.”
The question and answer period of the signing was interrupted by a D.C. resident with a complaint about WMATA’s hiring policies. According to the resident, despite receiving an offer of employment from the agency he has not been able to secure his employment due to a long ago nonviolent offence on his record. The district resident alleged that the administration’s talk of giving ex-offenders a second chance had not been a reality for him. Instead the agency reportedly hired candidates with terror and violent convictions on their record. After assuring the resident that his case would be looked over by a member of her staff he was ushered out the conference room.