Metro agreement threatened by Obama's budget

Local,Transportation,Kytja Weir

President's proposal would cut annual grant by $15 million

A significant source of Metro's funding for major repairs and maintenance could be jeopardized if President Obama's budget proposal issued Monday succeeds in cutting $15 million from the federal government's $150 million annual allocation to the transit agency.

Metro's advocates acknowledge that the cut itself is not significant money, but rather that it could erode what remains of a $3 billion deal between the local jurisdictions and the federal government.

The money is part of a 2009 agreement among Maryland, Virginia, the District and the federal government to support Metro's longterm infrastructure needs. Each of the local communities is supposed to contribute $50 million each per year for 10 years to match the federal $150 million annual match.

"The president is looking for cuts anywhere he can, but I think upon reflection this is penny-wise and pound-foolish," said Virginia Rep. Gerry Connolly, D-Fairfax County. "It's only $15 million. We're not going to balance the budget on this, but that $15 million is going to leverage $150 million."

President Obama's budget proposal calls for cutting Metro's annual $150 million contribution to $135 million, even as it increases overall transit funding nationwide.

The increase to transit funding could cause "a significant boost" to Metro, according to federal transit officials, on top of the existing federal money that the agency already receives. His proposal also includes $45 million to pay for the first direct regulation over the nation's subway systems, pending legislation directly inspired by Metro's deadly 2009 Red Line crash.

Yet the cut to the $150 million allocation immediately stirred local officials. Funding for Metro has been a rare spot of bipartisan agreement in the region in recent years.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a vocal critic of Metro, pledged to fight to restore the full funding and noted that Congress ultimately decides what amount to appropriate, not the president. "We must continue to invest in Metro to ensure that it is safe for the millions of people who ride on it every day," the Maryland Democrat said.

The offices of the governors of Maryland and Virginia also pledged on Monday to pay their full shares.

Va. Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican, was disappointed to hear the president's budget didn't have the full amount, his spokesman Jeff Caldwell said.

"Virginia intends to meet its commitment," he said. "It is unfortunate the federal government does not propose to meet theirs."

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