Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn told state lawmakers on Thursday that his agency is making progress in its efforts to force the Washington, D.C., area’s Metro system to keep better track of its funds, but he cautioned lawmakers not to expect a quick resolution to the matter.
Rahn’s letter to approximately 40 D.C.-area lawmakers, first obtained by Maryland Matters, came in response to a letter they sent him late last month.
In it, the legislators urged MDOT to release $55.6 million in capital funds that Metro was expecting on July 1. The Hogan administration surprised the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, Metro’s governing body, by announcing its decision to withhold those funds the day they were due.
“Our team is having constructive discussion with WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld and his staff on resolving the financial transparency issues we outlined in our July 1, 2019 letter,” Rahn wrote.
“That said, as these concerns certainly did not manifest overnight, neither will their resolution,” he added.
Maryland lawmakers from Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and transit advocates told Maryland Matters this week they weren’t sure whether Rahn is playing hardball — withholding money to force Metro to improve its flawed system for tracking its resources — or whether the Hogan administration is contemplating reprogramming the $56 million to other uses. The latter could trigger a similar action from the District of Columbia and the Commonwealth of Virginia, Metro’s other funding partners – imperiling the agency’s push to upgrade its equipment and avoid breakdowns.
A source with knowledge of the situation expressed confidence the state would make good on its capital funding commitment by the end of September, when another payment is due, though the official cautioned that the agency could face a cashflow problem if the impasse lasts longer than that.
Rahn’s letter chides lawmakers for their request that the state release the Metro money before Metro has demonstrated greater control over its finances.
“We were confused by your comment that you were not consulted about our decision, when it was the General Assembly’s own expressed desire to see additional scrutiny,” he wrote.
“In light of Governor Hogan’s commitment to invest an additional $167 million annually in dedicated funding to address potential safety concerns and bring the overall system into a state of good repair, surely you agree that we must ensure WMATA is a responsible steward of Maryland taxpayers’ hard-earned money. The bipartisan funding legislation we all supported provided for exactly this type of necessary oversight.”