The MARC train: Still on the rails?
The budget for fiscal year 2020 passed by the legislature and signed by Governor Jim Justice includes $1.1 million as a state subsidy for the MARC commuter train, operated by the State of Maryland with service to Jefferson and Berkeley counties.
The bad news is that this figure is lower than the $1.5 million appropriated by the legislature last year. The good news is that there is indeed some money for MARC. There had been much speculation that the legislature would appropriate nothing for MARC this year.
State Senator Craig Blair, of Berkeley County, and chair of the Senate Finance Committee, has made no bones about his opposition to any public subsidy for MARC. I like and respect Senator Blair, but this is one of the areas of public policy upon which we disagree.
Adding to the speculation this would be the year MARC service into West Virginia would die was the action by the Jefferson County Commission to appropriate no money toward a MARC subsidy.
I fully understand that county governments in West Virginia are strapped for financial resources. They lack the ability to raise revenue possessed by local governments in most states (particularly those of our neighbors in Virginia and Maryland). But the county commission could have, and in my view should have, come up with at least a token amount to show support for this form of mass transit.
Moreover, the attitude toward MARC shown by the West Virginia Department of Transportation intensified the difficulty of getting the appropriation. Last year’s appropriation of $1.5 million was intended to spur negotiations between WVDOT and the Maryland Department of Transportation. Maryland had indicated it would eliminate service into West Virginia if West Virginia did not commit to an annual subsidy of at least $3 million for MARC.
I think there’s room for compromise. But WVDOT needs to get off the dime and start negotiating with Maryland. Secretary of Transportation Tom Smith was recently fired by Governor Justice. While Mr. Smith did not lose his job over the MARC train, perhaps his replacement can be persuaded to talk with Maryland.
Kudos to Governor Justice for signing the budget, without removing the MARC train appropriation. He could have done so via line his item veto power, and he was pressured heavily to do so by many folks outside and inside Jefferson and Berkeley counties. I applaud the governor for standing firm.
Also deserving plaudits is Delegate Eric Householder, of Berkeley County, and chair of the House of Delegates Finance Committee. Delegate Householder made sure the MARC appropriation was included in the House version of the budget, and furthermore stood firm in budget negotiations with the Senate, making sure the MARC appropriation survived in the final version of the budget that was approved by the legislature and sent to the governor.
We now have another year to settle this issue. I think MARC service is a tremendous asset to Jefferson and Berkeley Counties. It enables many who live here to get to work and keeps many cars off of our crowded roads.
To keep MARC on the rails, we need a concerted effort by legislators, local government officials and citizens. We must not lose this service.