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From the Publisher's Desk...

Trump is Big on the Urgency to Fix Infrastructure; When he Pushes for This Will Metro be Included?

In the November 10th edition of the Washington Post, the “Dr. Gridlock” column posed an important question: “As the region mulls President-elect Donald Trump’s vows for a comprehensive infrastructure package, many are wondering: What does this mean for Metro?”

Already, as reported by Dr. Gridlock, there are expressions of hope, given that during campaign rallies Trump has made a point about the critical need for rebuilding infrastructure across the country as being good for the economy and for creating millions of jobs: “He’s spoken fondly of cutting-edge transit systems in other countries  . . . and he’s has first-hand experience with New York City’s subway system and its importance to the New York economy.”

But is this just wishful thinking? In our view, probably. Aside from not trusting Trump’s policy pronouncements — after all, he’s infamous for flip flopping his flip flops), there will once again be a Republican controlled Congress which will, no doubt, now even more than ever double-down on the mantra that no spending of public money for bettering the lives of citizens is good spending.

Even knowing well the Republican bias against spending for the public good, maybe those hopeful folk will look to the totally unexpected Democrat challenger’s astonishing defeat of hard-core conservative Florida Congressman John Mica. As chairman of his subcommittee of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, during the appearance last Spring of Metro’s board chairman (and Ward 2 Council member) Jack Evans who was making an excellent case for why the federal government should join with the three jurisdictions in providing a regular annual contribution to operating costs, especially given that 50 percent of weekday riders are federal employees and contractors, Mica rudely interrupted, proclaiming, as reported by the Washington Free Beacon, “I am not going to bail you out. I am not going to support bailing out the District of Columbia.”

Granted, the Republic will be much better off with Mica back in Florida, but we have no illusions that whomever takes over his subcommittee chairmanship won’t be any more inclined to be helpful about Metro. As Dr. Gridlock reminds us, we will continue to have “a Congress controlled by Republicans who have vowed to defund mass transit [which they have made abundantly clear in their own words] is “an inherently local affair that serves only a small portion of the population.”

On and off during the last few months — and especially very recently when Metro’s general manager revealed that its financial abyss was possibly endless — we have been batting around the notion of whether the solution to Metro’s mess might be the same kind of drastic federal takeover by a financial control board of five highly qualified, non-political “technocrats” as was put into place by the Congress between 1995 and 2001 to pull the District’s government out of its own abyss. The outcome of that was very successful and could be a model for a similar approach for Metro.

We were very pleased when we saw the Post‘s Senior Regional Correspondent Robert McCartney’s November 2nd report that Metro Board Chairman Evans is embracing the idea of a federal takeover similar to what was done in 1995 for DC — “what would be a drastic step to solve the agency’s financial and management problems,” characterized by Evans as “a federal control board with ‘extraordinary powers’ to run Metro.”

We agree, although upon reading Post transportation columnist Robert Thompson’s thoughtful November 8th piece, “Metro chairman thinking a little too big in urging federal takeover,” we are willing to pause and consider his concerns.

In referring to an earlier suggestion (trial balloon?) for a six-month total shutdown to allow for a complete rebuilding and also for this control board idea, Thompson writes, “Neither would help Metro.” He continues by observing, “At best, the plea for a federal takeover should be viewed as an inappropriate cry for help. As with the idea for a long-term closing of an entire line, there are less radical ways of moving toward the goals of a safe and reliable subway, which is what Evans — to his credit — is trying to get everyone to focus on.”

What Thompson’s urging for restraint in calling for Congressional intervention by means of creating a control board seems to boil down to avoiding using “Congress as [the] role model for effective decision-making.” He does have a point about that! Continuing, he writes, “We quite rightly have difficulty imagining how Congress, teamed with the new resident of the White House, could wind up making decisions for us on local travel issues. So what, exactly, is attractive about a federal takeover?”

Money — and tons of it — seems to be the answer as posited by Thompson. But, then, as he correctly observes, “The thing is, the feds aren’t [overly] generous. Congress has proved that time and again when it tries to finance the rebuilding of the nation’s transportation infrastructure. And we’re going to melt their cold, cold hearts when we ask them to use the nation’s taxpayers as our piggy bank? It’s just not their style.”

We would add one other caveat: Do we really want a Republican President like know-it-all Trump and a Republican Congress not a friend of DC to get overly involved with our local affairs? If an iron-clad assurance of no policy meddling can be built in to a control board authorization then we say, go for it — but we need to think about this carefully.

 

 

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