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County Board Objects to ‘Transit Funding Game’

Local leaders say policy shift disruptive, costly.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors strongly criticized a McDonnell administration plan to overhaul the way it handles transportation funding, calling the move politically-motivated "funding games."

At its board meeting on Tuesday, June 19, supervisors joined other Northern Virginia localities in signing a regional letter condemning the state’s Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) policy shift that abruptly changes the way the Commonwealth directs distribution of its financial assistance for transit to Northern Virginia localities.

The signers of the letter include Chairman Sharon Bulova (D-At-large); Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) Chairman Jay Fisette; Arlington Board Chairman Mary Hynes; Falls Church Mayor Nader Baroukh; Alexandria Mayor Bill Euille; and City of Fairfax Mayor Robert Lederer.

According to the letter, the DRPT – which forwarded $117 million in transit funding to Northern Virginia in fiscal year 2012 - threatened to cut off all of the state funding for the coming year unless the jurisdictions immediately agreed to the change.

In a statement released Tuesday, county supervisors said the McDonnell administration is attempting "to circumvent Northern Virginia’s efficient transit funding system."

Currently, the state’s Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) forwards money to the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC), which allocates it based on the decades-old Subsidy Allocation Model (SAM).

According to the letter, failure to allocate state assistance to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) using the subsidy allocation model - as DRPT is attempting to do - would violate state law. SAM has been used by NVTC since 1974, and no state representative has ever voted against it.

"This move is being done in the name of transparency but, as the authors of the letter lay out, it only complicates the process that Northern Virginia uses to fund transit and could undermine vital services like Metro and the Connector," Bulova said in the statement released Tuesday. "Unfortunately, this unexpected (DRPT) action occurred without any consultation, which would have quickly identified some serious concerns."

The letter’s authors say that the current funding model helps "cushion the impact" of unexpected changes in state transit aid, especially for smaller jurisdictions. The mayors and chairs also decry the short notice for this change.

"It is not reasonable to change NVTC’s successful and long-standing process with only 10 days’ notice after FY2013 local budgets have been adopted and after NVTC had complete applications for the state aid [at issue]," they write.

"The new policy will create local winners and losers with no time to identify other workable solutions to achieve DRPT’s objectives. NVTC is not aware of any factor that necessitates a rush to action."

The letter and background information can be found at http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/government/board/bdagenda/2012/draft-agenda-june19.pdf