The state decided last month to eliminate the role of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission as a pass-through for transit money, by giving funds for Metro and other projects directly to local communities. The plan, which met immediate blowback locally, is expected to come to a head Thursday when the NVTC meets, a day before a state deadline for jurisdictions to accept the money directly -- or potentially lose it.
"This is another step in this administration's war against local government," Fairfax County Supervisor Jeff McKay said. "They stepped right in it without doing their research and outreach."
The NVTC currently reallocates state money based on a formula that ensures projects in smaller communities such as Falls Church still get funded, helping the region, even if Falls Church does not have all the money on its own.
But Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation Director Thelma Drake said that several times in recent months local officials have mistakenly said publicly the state does not provide operating money for agencies such as Metro.
"The people of Northern Virginia do not understand the magnitude of state dollars that go into Northern Virginia," she said. "If we send them the money directly, we'll be able to show others what we pay."
However, McKay said the existing system has worked for years. "NVTC is a regional body, and transit only works as a regional network," he said.
Some communities could fall short with the change as they already have passed their budgets that begin July 1.
"It creates no opportunity for us to make adjustments," said Fairfax City Councilman Jeff Greenfield. He estimates the change would cost his city at least $200,000 next year. Smaller communities don't have the expertise on staff to handle state paperwork and deadlines, which would require additional hiring and expenses, he said.
Drake, though, questions how much money NVTC takes as a middleman and how much it holds in reserves until bills are paid.
NVTC spokeswoman Kala Leggett Quintana called her organization "incredibly efficient," saying it operated on an administrative budget of $1.2 million while handling $145 million in the last full fiscal year. She added that the commission functions as a bank for the jurisdictions that choose to store what they need to pay bills -- or to save for big projects coming up. "We don't have a say in that," she said.
While the commission had $133.9 million in its trust on June 30, 2011, she said, the next day it paid out $31.7 million to Metro. The commission is audited yearly by an outside firm and every three years by the state.