ROCKVILLE – Dozens of members of the Maryland General Assembly say they share Maryland’s secretary of transportation’s concerns about Metro transparency and want him to update them on his efforts working with the agency.
Forty-one Maryland state senators and delegates signed a letter to Maryland Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn dated July 29, in response to his announcement to Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld that the state was withholding $55.6 million. Rahn said the reason was he found an issue with the level of transparency in Metro’s spending of new money from the jurisdictions.
The legislators wrote that they support Rahn in his efforts to hold Metro accountable. However, they would have preferred that he consult them before announcing his plan to withhold the money.
“We were disappointed, although not surprised, that you chose to send the letter and withhold funds with no advanced consultation or notice to your partners in the Maryland General Assembly,” they wrote.
Names included at the bottom of the letter include Del. Marc Korman and Del. David Moon, who represent Montgomery County. Both representatives were vocal in the past about Metro’s funding and the issues it could cause. House Transportation and Environment Committee Chairman Kumar Barve also signed the letter.
It was because of legislation passed by the general assembly and signed by Gov. Larry Hogan (R) in 2018 that Rahn has a place on Metro’s board of directors.
Rahn, who is also Metro’s newest voting member representing Maryland, wrote in a letter that the state withheld $55.6 million that the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) scheduled to send to Metro because the agency needed better oversight measures for how it spends dedicated funding, which comes from Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia, to spend on capital projects.
In 2018, Maryland, Virginia and the District passed historic legislation in which they each outlined how they would set aside hundreds of millions of dollars of additional money to give to Metro. Elected officials representing the three jurisdictions and Metro officials refer to this money as dedicated funding.
The legislatures passed the dedicated funding legislation after Wiedefeld requested that D.C., Maryland and Virginia provide an additional $500 million in capital funding per year to help reduce backlog-deferred maintenance and repairs. Wiedefeld offered in exchange his commitment to limit any operating subsidy increases from year to year to a maximum of three percent more than the previous year’s subsidies.
In addition to asking Rahn to keep them updated, members of the Maryland General Assembly had a few requests. First, they asked that he send a written update on “the status of these issues” discussed in their letter within 30 days of July 29.
The written update was not their only communication-related request.
“We request that you make clear that which your letter does not but the law requires: once the above issues are addressed as requested by your letter, Maryland will release the legally required $55.6 million, as appropriately adjusted for any audit findings,” they wrote.
In his letter to Metro officials, Rahn mentioned concerns with Metro’s self-audits, based on a legislative audit completed by the state’s Office of Legislative Audits. He asked for what MDOT officials had requested back in 2016, concerning money spent between 2011 and 2015.
After the office’s legislative audit of MDOT from 2011 through 2015, it found that in February 2016 “‘there (was) a lack of assurance that Maryland’s portion of WMATA’s allocated operating deficit and capital project costs was (were) accurate and supported,’” Rahn wrote.
It is unclear when MDOT will give the $55.6 million to Metro.
Members of the General Assembly who signed the letter said they agreed with Rahn’s request for a new Capital Funding Agreement (CFA).
“A financial agreement, the CFA (Capital Funding Agreement) provides the framework for jurisdictional investment in the Capital Improvement Program (CIP), including (a) match to federal formula and discretionary grants, additional state and local contributions, and Metro’s short- and long-term debt strategies,” according to the March 22, 2018, memorandum to the Metro Board.
According to the March 22, 2018 memorandum to the board, the fact that the funding jurisdictions could not reach an agreement on a new CFA in 2017 or 2018 was a contributing factor to extending the existing CFA.
Those who signed the July 29 letter asked that Rahn works with Metro, D.C. and Virginia to form a temporary one before creating a new multi-year agreement.
“We would encourage you and WMATA to enter a short-term CFA with the other member jurisdictions regarding WMATA’s capital program,” the general assembly members wrote.
Metro has a recent history of not passing a new, multi-year capital funding agreement, but rather extending the preexisting one. The capital funding agreement requires the board to put this recommendation to a vote for approval.
Rahn replaced former Board member and Prince George’s County representative Clarence Crawford after the General Assembly passed legislation in 2018 to have the secretary of transportation become one of Maryland’s voting metro board members. Rahn participated in one Metro Board meeting in early July, at which he was formally installed. He did not attend the following meeting.