The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) recently approved release of the “Report on Virginia's 3% Cap on the Growth in Operating Assistance Payments to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority” (WMATA) to the Virginia General Assembly, as required by law.
In 2018, the General Assembly imposed a three percent cap on growth on Virginia’s annual operating subsidy to WMATA as a part of its commitment to a dedicated source of capital funding. In any year where the annual increase in the approved WMATA operating subsidy exceeds three percent (apart from legislative exemptions), the legislation directs the Commonwealth Transportation Board to withhold 35 percent of state funding allocated to NVTC as capital and operating assistance to help its local jurisdictions meet their financial obligations to WMATA.
This year, the General Assembly directed the formation of NVTC’s 3% Cap Working Group, comprised of experts and stakeholders from Northern Virginia’s localities, to examine the cap and assess its usefulness and whether additional exemptions to the cap should be considered.
In the report, the working group found that the three percent cap appears to be a useful tool to manage the growth in Virginia’s operating subsidy. Since the cap has only been in place for two WMATA budget cycles, the working group recommends:
- No changes be made to the existing three percent cap legislation at this time
- No additional exclusions should be considered
- NVTC work with the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation to clarify existing state policy guidance regarding the current legislative exclusions to the cap
- NVTC continue to explore potential modifications to Virginia’s cap legislation
Katie Cristol, NVTC chair, said that the report highlights the complexity of balancing the needs of a transit system while reducing financial unpredictability and pressure. She also said that the General Assembly’s directive to evaluate the cap comes at a time when the Commonwealth and NVTC jurisdictions are identifying tools and strategies to promote cost efficiencies in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.