WASHINGTON – Maryland Secretary of Transportation Pete Rahn said after a Sept. 12 Metro Board Committee meeting that the state’s transportation department will likely soon release the $53 million it withheld from the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) for more than two months.
Rahn, in a letter to Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld in July, called Metro’s books a “financial black hole” and said that because of concerning issues with the agency, it would not receive the $55.6 million in state funding. One issue was that Maryland’s Office of Legislative Audits asked for documentation from Metro to clarify a discrepancy, and had not received it right away.
On Sept. 12, Wiedefeld said the documents Rahn requested for the audit were sent on Sept. 11. Rahn responded saying that resolving the auditing items will give WMATA about $13 million of the withheld money.
“Our auditors have met with the general manager; the general manager has directed the staff to provide MDOT (Maryland Department of Transportation) whatever it needs to complete those audits,” Rahn said. “So, I look forward to that item being resolved as well.”
Earlier this year, Rahn wrote in a letter to Wiedefeld that he did not want to give Metro money before the agency improved transparency on how it spends capital dollars.
Another time, he said he wanted Metro to indemnify the state of Maryland in a funding agreement. If the board approves the indemnity piece of the capital funding agreement (CFA) or Maryland, the state government will be able to release a majority of the funds it withheld from Metro.
Rahn said during the Sept. 12 meeting that he believes the board is on track to approve the indemnity “because it’s within the capital funding agreement for the dedicated funds; it has to be approved by the board,” said Rahn. “And so, it’s my understanding that it’s on track for that to be done on the 26th (of September), and at that point then we can release the (…) $42 million from our dedicated funds, and that CFA will be in place going forward; it’s not a one-year agreement.
“It (the CFA) is a continuing agreement on how the funds are going to be used and the procedures that are going to be used in any sort of auditing disputes that might occur.”
The withholding resulted in the transportation secretary receiving a letter from Wiedefeld and dozens of members of the Maryland General Assembly, asking him to reconsider his decision.
Maryland’s state senators and delegation cautioned Rahn in a letter that keeping a grip on the $55.6 million could harm the quality and frequency of rail service in the Washington, D.C. region. While they valued the transparency he sought, they did not want the pursuit of that transparency to punish riders through a blow to the quality of service they receive.
Wiedefeld disagreed, telling reporters on Sept. 12 that he does not believe Rahn’s delay in delivering the state dollars will harm Metro.
One member of the delegation to sign the letter to Rahn was Del. Marc Korman (D-16), who represents Montgomery County. Korman said Metro’s receiving the funds will be positive, but he did not have a favorable opinion on the approach Rahn chose.
“It is a little Trumpian in that Maryland, you know, on the day that they were supposed to provide the money, held the money (in) this dramatic letter, so created a mini-crisis, and now, a few months later, is announcing that they have resolved the crisis,” Korman said Sept. 13. “So, it’s a very… melodramatic situation, but (…) on the positive side, it looks like it’s coming to a close.”
Wiedefeld said he does not believe issues remain between Maryland and Metro as a result of the withholding.
When asked his perspective on the relationship between Metro and Maryland, Wiedefeld said, “I think it’s fine. I talked to the secretary, (and) there are some issues that were cleared up. The CFA was a big issue; he mentioned the indemnifications, and we’ll have that cleared up next week. We sent a lot of the audit materials (to) the secretary’s office yesterday; we talked to the audit committee.”
Rahn also asked Wiedefeld to address Metro’s capital program, stating that it seemed unclear which projects the funding jurisdictions would fund and confusing which projects the agency was scheduled to complete. During a Sept. 12 presentation for Metro’s six-year capital plan, however, Rahn had only positive things to say. Wiedefeld said he believed the positive response was a good sign.
“You saw the (capital program) presentation today,” Wiedefeld said to reporters. “He (Rahn) made the comment that (it) was meeting their needs, so I think we’re moving very nicely with that.”