Norton Pushes for Federal Payments to WMATA Operating Budget, Dedicated Funding Source
WASHINGTON, D.C.—Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) today at a House Government Operations Subcommittee hearing on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) SafeTrack maintenance program and WMATA’s financial situation called out the federal government as a “free rider,” because it is the only regional actor that relies on Metro that does not contribute to WMATA’s operationing budget. She said that the federal government is the only enterprise in the region that completely shuts down when Metro shuts down.
In her questioning of WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld, Norton raised WMATA’s long-term financial needs. She said that nearly 40 years ago, the U.S. Comptroller General said WMATA risked “a continuing financial crisis.” Quoting Wiedefeld that Metro has an “unsustainable cost model,” Norton asked whether that was the same as a “death spiral,” the cliché of the day. Wiedefeld indicated that WMATA could not continue to raise fares while cutting service, and, following a question from Norton, said that the next Metro budget would show layoffs of operations personnel. He agreed with Norton that the best way to solve WMATA’s unsustainable cost model is with a dedicated funding source.
Norton asked Wiedefeld how much funding it would take to run the Metro system smoothly while regularly performing preventative maintenance. Wiedefeld responded that he would have fiscal year 2019 and long-term budget projections available in April.
Finally, Norton brought up her March 23 letter to Wiedefeld in which she raised concerns that under a recent Request for Proposals for track work, WMATA had adopted only a 15 percent goal for using Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (DBE), far lower than WMATA’s 22 percent DBE representation goal for fiscal years 2017-2019. She expects an explanation of the need for the reduced DBE goal in the next few weeks, and Wiedefeld said he is working on a reply to her letter.