Local officials call for regionwide sales tax to fund Metro

By Cam Hasbrouck

The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments released a report April 26 calling for a new region wide sales tax to raise money for Metro maintenance and expansion, according to the Washington Post.

The Metro, which is estimated to require at least $15.5 billion over the next 10 years, will face a $7.5 billion dollar shortfall in the next decade, per the Washington Post.

In order to raise the money that is necessary for the Metro, local budget and administrative officials recommended the implementation of a region wide sales tax of  1 percent (one penny for every dollar).

The tax, which would stretch across all of the localities in the WMATA Compact region in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, would generate $650 million dollars per year, according to the report.

The goal of the tax is to raise money for the Metro by January of 2019.

METRO 2
Photo from Creative Commons.

Without the tax, the region could have to dip into funding for schools and roads, among other things, the Washington Post reports.

According to the report, the group also considered several property taxes, as well as a gas tax, but decided that a region-wide sales tax would be best, since it spreads the cost across the region and generates money from visitors.

Similar taxes are used to fund transit systems in other major U.S. cities such as Boston, Chicago, New York, and San Francisco, according to the Washington Post.

The University of Maryland’s proximity to Washington, D.C. — and the ease of getting there via the Metro for Maryland students — is a big pull for the school when it comes to prospective students.

“I think it’s a helpful and useful resource,” said Jeff O’Neal, a student and resident assistant at UMD. “I do think it is a pretty strong pull, especially for people who aren’t from Maryland, because they want to go explore D.C.”

Of course, implementing a new tax is much easier said than done. Already, legislators in Virginia are skeptical about the tax.

“We have to be able to sell something to the entire rest of the Commonwealth of Virginia, not to decide what we want to do and then impose that upon them. That’s not going to work,” said Virginia Sen. George Barker, per WTOP.

The group that proposed the tax argued that the Metro is necessary even for those who don’t ride it consistently since it helps to reduce traffic across the region.

O’Neal pointed out that, while some students may pay for the Metro and not use it much, it’s not much different than other taxes that don’t directly benefit them.

“A lot of what taxes go to are things that are not exactly benefiting me,” O’Neal said. “But it is a public good.”

However, not everyone is on board with paying for something that they don’t usually make use of.

Loudoun County Supervisor Matt Letourneau questioned the fairness of the proposed tax, arguing that residents who live further from the heart of the Metro shouldn’t have to pay as much as those who live closer to it.

“The political realities of that are going to be very difficult, and I think there is a fairness issue,” Letourneau said, per WTOP. “I don’t think it will be fair to ask somebody who lives in Leesburg or Lovettsville or Hamilton to pay an additional cent … on every single thing they purchase in order to fund Metro.”

On top of that, the implementation of such a tax would be difficult and time-consuming. While the D.C. Council has already voted in favor of supporting a tax, they will only do so if Maryland and Virginia do the same, the Washington Post reports.

In order to do that, the legislatures of Maryland and Virginia would have to give their stamp of approval to individual counties who would then need to go through the process of creating a new tax. The odds of this getting done before the January 2019 deadline appear slim.

Even still, the group is confident that Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia will be able to work something out.

“These are all rough edges that can be buffed out,” said Chuck Bean, the Executive Director of the Metropolitan Washington council of Governments, per the Washington Post.

Featured image from Creative Commons.

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