A group of state lawmakers from the Washington, D.C., suburbs is encouraging Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn to reverse his decision to withhold nearly $56 million in capital funds for the capital region’s rail system.
The Hogan administration’s decision to withhold the funds — announced in a letter late in the day on July 1, the day they were due — appeared to catch the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority and the General Assembly by surprise.
In a letter to Rahn sent Sunday — and first obtained by Maryland Matters — more than three dozen lawmakers urge Rahn to release the funds.
Noting that Rahn has a seat on the WMATA Board of Directors due to legislation enacted by the Maryland legislature in 2018, the 41 lawmakers from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties chide the secretary for his surprise decision.
“It is unfortunate that you have chosen to carry out these new duties with no consultation or advance public notice of the withholding of funds, but that is what has occurred,” the letter reads. “We hope this represents a new substantive era of engagement on the part of your Department with WMATA and not just a rhetorical exercise.”
In his July 1 letter to the agency, Rahn accused Metro of “stonewalling” on audits and refusing to outline where funds from the agency’s funding partners — Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia — would go.
In their weekend letter to Rahn, the lawmakers align themselves with some of the Hogan administration’s concerns about the agency’s practices.
“We agree that WMATA should cooperate with audits of the operating and capital contributions of the jurisdictions,” the letter reads. “In addition to resolving the outstanding Maryland audit cited in your letter, we strongly encourage you to work with the District of Columbia and Virginia to establish a regional approach to jurisdictional audits.”
They also back Rahn’s call for a capital funding agreement between WMATA and the jurisdictions its serves, to provide a clearer sense of how Maryland monies will be utilized.
“We support regional efforts to enter into a multi-year, long-term capital funding agreement to avoid the need to regularly renegotiate the CFA,” the lawmakers write.
But they also express regret that the state has adopted a hardball approach with Metro.
In a July 23 letter to Rahn, Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld urged Rahn to release the $55.6 million in withheld funds.
Rahn and Wiedefeld met earlier this month to discuss the state’s concerns, soon after Rahn became a member of the WMATA board.
In his letter, Wiedefeld said the agency has made progress in its Capital Improvement Program, has addressed issues raised in recent audits, and would be willing to enter into the sorts of agreements that Maryland officials have sought.
But he also expressed alarm about the impact lost funds would have on Metro, an agency that is attempting to rebound after years of difficulties.
“The withholding of payments by any jurisdiction could negatively impact the [Wall Street bond] rating, which could increase financing costs for all funders,” Wiedefeld wrote. “Given these considerations and the good faith efforts by WMATA to address the issues raised in your letter, I request that MDOT immediately certify the reports received from WMATA and authorize payment of the withheld capital funds.”
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