Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-Va.) has introduced a bill that would boost funding for Metro while also scrapping the current board structure and adopting long-term operational changes.
The 77-page bill, which Comstock introduced Monday, has received the support of business leaders, though lawmakers initially appear split over many of the provisions, especially those designed to address Metro’s labor costs.
Let’s take a look at the key aspects of Comstock’s Metro reform bill:
- It would boost Metro’s federal funding from $150 million annually to an average of $225 million annually over 10 years. This includes $75 million in grant money annually for Capital Programs. It stops short of advocating for a dedicated funding source for Metro, as many local leaders have urged.
- The boost in funding is contingent upon some big reforms, including the creation of a temporary five-member reform board to replace the current Metro board. This reform board would have the power to cancel or renegotiate all existing contracts.
- The bill calls for the eventual creation of a permanent nine-member board within three years.
- The bill seeks to reduce Metro labor costs by calling for Metro to switch to a defined contribution pension for workers, as opposed to a defined benefit. Additionally, it places some limits on what arbitrators can award if Metro and its union can’t agree on a labor contract.
Some of provisions in Comstock’s bill are similar to recommendations from former U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood that were formally announced on Tuesday. LaHood has also favored the creation of a reform board, and the proposal has at least tacit support from Mayor Muriel Bowser and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan. But there is some concern that the formation of such a board would require a change to the Metro Compact, which could be complicated and time consuming.
Previous reporting from The Washington Post suggests that Comstock and LaHood agree on the need for more Metro funding. However, LaHood is less concerned about the cost of Metro’s labor, indicating that it is not out of line compared to other systems.
Rep. Comstock’s Metro bill has received attention because she is from Virginia and, as a Republican, she may have some ability to move the legislation through the GOP-controlled Congress. But other local lawmakers have weighed in with proposals of their own.
Rep. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) and Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) introduced a bill at the end of November calling for a dedicated funding source for Metro. The bill would also allow Metro the flexibility to use money assigned to capital improvements for operations, when necessary to avoid service cuts or fare increases.
Brown and Raskin’s bill also calls for a pilot program offering flat fee of $2.50 for trips originating from three stops selected by Metro, and other provisions to make it easier for low-income people to ride.