MARC TRAIN BENEFITS THE ENTIRE STATEposted by John Doyle on Facebook, December 27, 2019
On December 20 representatives of Governor Jim Justice announced in Martinsburg that funding had been secured to continue the existing MARC commuter train service until June 30.
This was good news, and I commend the governor for his efforts. But the work has just begun.
MARC is a commuter rail service provided by the Maryland Mass Transit Administration (MTA). Its “Brunswick” line serves three stops over approximately 20 miles in West Virginia
(Martinsburg, Duffields and Harpers Ferry).
There are 3 trains each way each weekday between Martinsburg and Washington, DC. Several hundred West Virginians use the service. Two years ago Maryland asked West Virginia to begin paying for its portion of the service (a reasonable request, I think).
Last year and again this year the Legislature appropriated some money for MARC, but each appropriation was well short of Maryland’s request. Maryland announced in July it would cut the service to one train per day in October. All hell broke loose in Jefferson and Berkeley counties.
Cutting the service to one train per day would essentially eliminate the service. Hundreds of people who moved to West Virginia because of the promise of train service would have been betrayed. Property values would have been negatively affected. I urged the governor to find some money in his
contingency fund to last the rest of the fiscal year, while we worked out a long-term solution. He responded with an offer to do so, providing the two counties and the municipalities therein came up with several hundred thousand dollars of “local money.” They did.
In the spirit of compromise and because time was short, I supported the local contributions for THIS YEAR ONLY. I oppose asking local governments for any more money going forward, for several reasons.
Nationally, commuter rail service is funded almost exclusively by state governments (not local ones). And local governments in West Virginia are much more strapped financially than local
governments in most other states. I believe that none of MARC’s current annual budget of about $150 million comes from any of Maryland’s counties or cities.
If we add up the state income and sales taxes paid by the several hundred folks who ride MARC, and the several hundred other folks who moved to West Virginia because of MARC (but no longer ride it), I think the total is at least the $3.5 million per year Maryland is asking.
Under West Virginia’s byzantine state “school-aid formula,” if local property tax money dedicated to schools is reduced for any reason (including a drop in property values) most of that money must be made up by the Legislature from the general revenue fund. So if MARC service is severely curtailed and local property values are negatively affected (which they surely will be), more of the tax money paid by all West Virginians will be required to help fund the schools of Jefferson and Berkeley counties.
Jefferson County is now the ninth largest (of 55) in population, and has the highest number of vehicle miles traveled of any county without an interstate highway. Yet of the almost $2 billion in the “Roads for Progress” road bond, Jefferson received not one penny. Without train service there would be hundreds more cars on our already-overcrowded roads.
Having ignored Jefferson County in the road bond, the governor poured salt in the wound at the MARC announcement. Three people from Charleston and three people from Berkeley County were the speakers at the announcement. No one from Jefferson was permitted to speak, even though the mayors of four of Jefferson’s five municipalities (all of whom supported the requested local funding) were present. I’ve joked for many years that folks in Charleston think there’s a county in northeastern West Virginia called “Eastern Panhandle,” and Martinsburg is the county seat. People in Charleston seem to not understand how very different Jefferson and Berkeley counties are from each other.
- John Doyle teamed with fellow Eastern Panhandle legislators to get the first West Virginia state subsidy for the MARC train. We now need a full and permanent state subsidy for MARC.
- Work to get our horsemen a fair deal once again for purses and for the breeders’ program.
- Work to eliminate the “car tax” making sure that schools and local governments are reimbursed by the state for every penny of that money.