Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Here's Proof We haven't Learned A Thing...

As the federal stimulus money starts to pour out of the government's coffers into state and regional agencies, the decision-makers at the local levels are getting to decide how to best spend the money. The idea (at least as far as I understand it) is to use that dough to create jobs by fixing infrastructure - preferably in projects that will take a good long time to complete. The hope is that by the time these projects are completed, the economy will be in good enough shape to sustain the workers who will be benefitting now from the stimulus program.

So can anyone explain to me why Metro is planning to spend a huge chunk of its stimulus money - not on capital projects - but to keep the current system going? Metro has a 30 million dollar budget hole, and was looking at cutting service to close the gap until board chairman Jim Graham stepped in with a plan to use stimulus money instead.

Critics say using stimulus money to balance Metro's budget this year will only move the problems to next year, when no new stimulus money will be forthcoming. But Graham told us at WMAL today he's optimistic the economy will recover enough by next year so that Metro won't have the same budget problems it has now.

Isn't this how America got into the trouble it's in today? By spending money NOW and worrying about how to pay our bills later? Using optimism as some sort of credit plan is not the smartest idea I've heard, either, Mr. Graham!

Metro loses money with every person who rides a train. For every dollar you spend to ride Metro, some government (MD or VA or DC or the Feds) is paying another dollar to subsidize your trip. By failing to cut service, Metro is hoping to keep people riding. That is all well and good from a public policy standpoint. But the more people ride, the more it costs taxpayers to keep them riding. Financially, it could very well make sense to cut some of the lower-volume train and bus service.

Montgomery County, which I have railed on regularly in this blog, will release its budget plan this week, and County Executive Ike Leggett is promising he will not use a single stimulus dollar to balance the county's books. I have a lot of problems with how Montgomery County conducts its business, but I am with Mr. Leggett on this point.

If your credit cards are at their spending limit and you find a wad of cash in the street, you don't go buy yourself a new car... you pay down your debt.

It's called being fiscally responsible. Montgomery County (at least in this case) is.

Metro is NOT.

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