Amazon, Metro Funding Take Center Stage at Bill Signing

If there was any lingering, smidgen of doubt about the role the nationwide Amazon headquarters competition played in convincing Washington, D.C.’s regional leaders to fully fund Metro for the first time, those doubts were erased on Wednesday, when Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) signed WMATA funding legislation into law at Strathmore Hall in North Bethesda. Montgomery County made the e-commerce giant’s Top 20 list of finalists earlier this year, and Amazon is widely believed to be focusing on the White Flint area, practically within earshot of the swank concert venue. And when state and county leaders — Hogan among them — made their pitch to Amazon executives earlier this year, the day-long session took place… at Strathmore.  “We did it here, actually, several weeks ago,” Hogan told Maryland Matters as he walked from the Grosvenor/Strathmore Metro station to the bill-signing ceremony on the concert stage. “We had an all-day presentation. County Executive [Isiah] Leggett and I, and our entire Commerce [Department] team — I think they spent 12 hours. They said they were very impressed with the presentation, and we know we’re on the short list.” Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (right) and Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld prepare to board a Metro train at the Bethesda Red Line station. Photo by Bruce DePuyt The legislation that Hogan signed on Wednesday commits Maryland to provide $167 million per year in Metro funding, to be used on new equipment and maintenance. Combined with the $154 million Virginia lawmakers approved last month, and the $179 million that D.C. is expected to approve, Metro will have the $500 million in new funding that the agency’s general manager, Paul J. Wiedefeld, requested last year. Metro’s persistent mishaps, safety concerns and reliability shortcomings have resulted in passenger death, a falloff in ridership and concerns about a financial “death spiral” for a once-heralded transit system.  “[This] legislation marks the first time in history that Metro has ever had a dedicated source of funding,” Hogan said to applause from an audience of state legislators and transit advocates.   Hogan then tweaked the federal government for failing to make a similar commitment.  “My original proposal was a four-way split between Maryland, Virginia, D.C. and the federal government, which would mean a $125 million investment from each of the four partners. Unfortunately, despite the fact that more than 40 percent of the people who ride Metro are federal employees, so far the federal government has failed to provide increased funding.” “So instead we worked together.. to step up to take even further funding actions.” Hogan praised the chief sponsors of the legislation, Sen. Brian J. Feldman (D-Montgomery) and Del. Marc Korman (D-Montgomery) for shepherding the measures across the finish line and for working closely with legislators in Richmond and the District. (While Democrats, traditionally allies of transit, control both the Maryland General Assembly and the D.C. Council, Republicans have a narrow edge in both chambers of the Virginia legislature.) Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert) noted that many of the lawmakers — in both states— who supported the funding boost represent communities far removed from Metro’s service area. “I want to particularly thank the legislators from the Baltimore region that recognized that this is a win-win for the entire state.  People came from the Eastern Shore, Western Maryland, Republicans and Democrats, to make this happen.” In addition to D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), who he said committed in a meeting last summer to raise the funds needed to provide the city’s share, Miller also praised transit advocates including the MetroNow coaltion, “organized labor,” construction executives, Virginia Govs. Terry McAuliffe (D) and Ralph Northam (D), Hogan, and “most of all, a dynamic leader, Ike Leggett, county executive, [this] wouldn’t have happened without you.” “Gov. Hogan, he doesn’t like to spend $10 million, much less $167 million,” Miller, speaking in his trademark unscripted fashion, said to laughter.  “So, concessions all around.” Hogan arrived at the bill-signing via Metro, having boarded at Bethesda for the two-stop ride to Grosvenor/Strathmore, just outside the Capital Beltway. In addition to the Metro bill, Hogan also signed a measure that would provide millions in tax credits to Amazon, should the company locate within the state. The governor told reporters the latest estimate is between 50,000 and 80,000 jobs, a significant potential increase from the already sizable workforce figure provided earlier. Locating in Maryland would provide an estimated $17 billion in economic activity per year, state officials have said.  Asked about the possibility that the company will select sites across the region — with three “winners” instead of just one — Hogan said, “we certainly would be supportive of that as well.” Amazon is expected to announce the location for its second headquarters later this year. “There’s no question we’re giving it the best pitch,” the governor told Maryland Matters. “But we have no idea really how [our presentation] went or how the final decisions are going to be made. We’re hopeful, though. We’re doing everything we can to get it.” [email protected]

Bruce DePuyt
Bruce DePuyt spent more than two decades on local television, including 14 years as host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the D.C. metro region. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County, as well as a reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. Bruce also is the host of the weekly The Bruce DePuyt Podcast.

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