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Metro Board Agonizing Over Cuts

A half dozen transit advocates met reporters outside of Metro's headquarters this morning to protest cuts in Metro service. Ben Ross of the Action Committee on Transit, one of the groups represented, called such cuts "totally unacceptable."

He said people need to get in touch with their local leaders and urge them to make sure Metro has the money it needs to balance its budget.

Inside, the building, Metro board members sounded equally upset about the prospect of cranking back on train and bus service.

"None of us wants to make any service changes," said Peter Benjamin, who represents Maryland and is head of the board's finance committee.

So the board spent a couple of agonizing hours with the staff going over whether the staff's budget numbers are right. Since any budget is somebody's best guess about what's going to happen a year from now, there was plenty of room for questions.

The staff opened the door to a lot of that when it had to admit a math error. Planners were off by $22 million in calculating how much Metro could save next year by the administrative cuts that General Manager John B. Catoe Jr. is making now. The transit authority is reducing its staff by 300 slots, about half of which are filled. Layoff notices are going out now.

But the math mistake means that the savings from those cuts are going to be closer to $81 million, not the original estimate of $103 million.

Metro's staff is making other educated guesses, including an estimate on the financial impact of the new transfer policy that allows riders to go from bus to train or train to bus at a 50 cent discount. There's another estimate on how much money Metro will make from parking.

The board doesn't want to go to the public with hearings on service cuts it doesn't actually need to make, Benjamin said. That's fine. The ranks of those transit advocates outside the building will swell considerably once Metro turns dollar figures into an actual plan to cut back on transit.

But some board members came perilously close to pushing the staff into wishful thinking on revenues. It's awfully tempting to reduce the anticipated budget shortfall by upping the anticipated revenue, but it's not a good idea to do that based on no more than a gut feeling that some number is too low.

Bottom line: There's no actual proposal for service cuts yet. The board is completely focused on reviewing the expense and revenue figures the staff developed.

By Robert Thomson  |  February 12, 2009; 4:34 PM ET
Categories:  Metro  
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Get a couple of billion from the Democrats, they're writing checks like crazy.

Posted by: Tupac_Goldstein | February 12, 2009 9:56 PM | Report abuse

I think Metro has learned something from the National Park Service. When faced with a budget crisis, always propose to cut stuff guaranteed to raise a big public outcry. It wakes up the politicians, and they act quickly to provide the funding that they should have provided in the first place.

Posted by: jcflack1 | February 13, 2009 8:41 AM | Report abuse

Metro needs to outsource all its union jobs
and eliminate all overtime. If it means service cuts then do it.

Roads and car rule. Metro deserves no funding at all ever. It should be forced to survive on fares only!

Posted by: sheepherder | February 13, 2009 8:49 AM | Report abuse

How do you outsource Metro's jobs? Unlike accounting work that can easily be outsourced to India, Metro's work kind of has to be done here in Washington, doesn't it?

Posted by: thetan | February 13, 2009 1:34 PM | Report abuse

If the WMATA board passes a budget with optimistic assumptions on revenue and expenses that don't turn out to be true, what happens? Aren't the local jurisdictions on the hook for putting up more money to subsidize the shortfall? Would service be cut back more severely at the end of the fiscal year? Would workers be put on unpaid leave?

To answer Mr. sheepherder, I think it would be nice to have an annual "no metro" day where the over 500,000 metro customers decide to drive instead and clog the streets. That would answer the assertion that roads and cars rule.

Posted by: perkinsms | February 14, 2009 3:16 PM | Report abuse

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