McAuliffe: Permanent funding for Metro necessary
by Amanda Iacone, WTOP.com
WASHINGTON — Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Wednesday left open the possibility of a regional, dedicated funding source for Metrorail after previously saying he wouldn't support a 1 cent sales tax for the beleaguered and cash-strapped transit agency.
"Do we need to find more permanent financing? Yes, we do," McAuliffe said during an appearance Wednesday on WTOP's "Ask the Governor."
"I know we will need more money. I've said that ... Also, my job as governor is to make sure Virginia taxpayer dollars are spent wisely," McAuliffe said.
McAuliffe said the agency is making progress to improve the safety and reliability of the rail system under the direction of General Manager Paul Wiedefeld. But despite that progress, he's not ready to commit to providing more funding to Metro just yet.
"We're all open to doing this. We'll get to a good place," McAuliffe said.
The governor said he had a good meeting with D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan earlier this month. Funding for Metro was among the topics the three leaders discussed.
He said the region will have to work together to ensure the long-term viability of Metro, which he described as a critical part of the region's transportation network and an economic driver.
In the mean time, McAuliffe said that Wiedefeld is working on a proposal to provide that long-term funding source, and he has encouraged the GM to meet with Northern Virginia lawmakers who could be tasked with convincing their colleagues in the General Assembly to pass a regional Metro tax.
Currently local jurisdictions provide Metro with a direct subsidy based on Metro's budget and expenses. Federal funding and fares supplement those local tax dollars. But Metro is forecasting a $275 million budget shortfall for next year, and the board that oversees the transit agency hasn't yet decided whether to increase fares again amid ever-shrinking ridership to help close that gap.
Governor promises fair election
McAuliffe said he would seek funding to upgrade the statewide voter registration system, which nearly collapsed under the strain of thousands of Virginians trying to register to vote in the final days before last week's deadline. A federal judge ordered a 36-hour extension, allowing another 28,000 Virginians to register or update their information. McAuliffe said more than 369,000 Virginians were added to the state's voter rolls this year, which he called unprecedented.
"There is no voter apathy in Virginia," he said and predicted that the state could see record turnout for this year's presidential election.
High turnout, could mean long lines at the polls and McAuliffe urged Virginians to cast absentee ballots if they qualify. The state doesn't offer universal early voting like some states, which McAuliffe said he would love to see changed.
"Let people vote," he said.
Voters in many parts of the state will be using new voting machines that provide a paper backup record. And the machines that read those paper ballots are not connected to the internet, all but eliminating the chance that the results could be altered, he said.
The governor also dismissed claims from Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump that the election is rigged, promising a fair and safe election free of intimidation or fraud.
"We are going to have a legitimate, great election," McAuliffe said.
McAuliffe defends supporting Jill McCabe campaign
McAuliffe rebuffed a Wall Street Journal report about his contributions to the state Senate campaign of Dr. Jill McCabe, the wife of an FBI official who later oversaw the investigation into Hillary Clinton's private email server, calling the story baseless and irresponsible.
The governor is a close ally and longtime friend of Hillary and Bill Clinton.
"I supported her for one reason: She would be a great state Senate candidate," McAuliffe said of McCabe who lost to incumbent Sen. Dick Black, one of the most outspoken opponents of abortion in the General Assembly.
McAuliffe said he was hoping to flip control of the Senate and Democrats targeted three seats as part of their efforts, including Black's district representing parts of Prince William and Loudoun counties. McAuliffe said he felt a woman physician would make an effective counter to some of Black's views and would have also given the governor the votes he's still short to expand the state's Medicaid program.
The governor through his political action committee plus the Democratic Party of Virginia provided McCabe's campaign with about $675,000, according to campaign finance records.
McCabe was recruited before stories about Clinton's private email server broke and McAuliffe said he had no way of knowing that McCabe's husband would eventually be involved in the resulting criminal investigation.
"If I wanted to curry favor with this gentleman, I would have appointed her to the (University of Virginia) board," he said.
Election night predictions
McAuliffe has predicted for months that his friend and political ally Hillary Clinton would win Virginia. Now he's predicting that she'll win nationally with 328, or more, electoral votes. A presidential candidate needs 270 to win the White House.
"Write that down," he said of his projection.
He also believes that Democrats will win enough seats on election night to take control of the U.S. Senate — 51 seats to Republican's 49.
Currently Republicans outnumber Democrats in the chamber with 54 members. Two independents vote with the 44 Democrats. On Nov. 8, 24 Republican-held seats are on the ballot and 10 Democratic-held seats.