Gov. Larry Hogan signed an Amazon incentive package bill and legislation calling for dedicated funding for Metro into law Wednesday at a ceremony featuring state legislative leaders in North Bethesda.
The bill signing, which took place at The Music Center at Strathmore, marks the formal approval of the bills. The Amazon package will provide between $3 billion to $5.5 billion in tax incentives to the company if it chooses Montgomery County as the site of its second headquarters. The county, along with 19 other places in North America, is competing for the massive economic development project.
The Metro bill will provide $167 million per year in state funding for the transit system. The move is part of a region-wide effort with Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia to provide a total of $500 million in annual dedicated funding to Metro. The transit service plans to use the funding stream to take out about $15 billion in bonds to pay for a 10-year capital improvement program. The money is designed to provide steady financial backing that Metro can use to improve service and safety issues that have plagued the transit system since coming to light in 2015, when a woman died on a Yellow Line Metro train when a tunnel filled with smoke.
“With the enactment of these pieces of legislation today, I think we’re sending a clear message we can deliver results for Maryland and the greater Washington area,” Hogan said during the ceremony.
— Andrew Metcalf (@AJwatchMD) April 25, 2018
Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld joked he would be brief in his remarks. “I got a lot of money to spend, I have to get work,” he said.
Wiedefeld and state House Speaker Michael Busch thanked Del. Marc Korman (D-Bethesda) and state Sen. Brian Feldman (D-Potomac) for their work in ushering the Metro funding bill through the state legislature.
State Senate President Mike Miller said he never needed to be convinced as to whether the Legislature should approve the Amazon incentive package. He described Montgomery County as “an economic engine.”
“This is an ideal spot for Amazon,” Miller said. “To add those 50,000 jobs, it’s just a win-win for everybody.” He was referring to the estimated number of jobs that Amazon is planning at the headquarters.
The governor rode the Red Line from the Bethesda station to the Grosvenor/Strathmore station along with Montgomery County Executive Ike Leggett and Wiedefeld to arrive at the ceremony at The Music Center. On the way he posed for photos with a family with young children at the Bethesda station and petted a police dog that accompanied the elected officials.
He said he used to ride the Metro to get from New Carrollton to the U.S. Capitol when he worked in Congress.
Gov. Larry Hogan greets a family with young children at Bethesda Metro pic.twitter.com/bFJGwZTaUo
— Andrew Metcalf (@AJwatchMD) April 25, 2018
Leggett said during the ceremony the two pieces of legislation will not only help improve Montgomery County, but also Maryland.
“One of the things you can keep in mind—when we make a request for resources to help Montgomery County, we will deliver and we will make it work,” Leggett said.
Hogan pushed back on a belief held by some critics of the Amazon legislation that the state shouldn’t be providing taxpayer funds to the massive corporation. He described that as a “misnomer” and said, “We’re actually letting the corporation keep some of its future revenues that we’re not getting now in taxes if they create all these jobs.”
The Amazon package requires the company to locate in Maryland and hire more than 40,000 employees over 17 years and compensate them at least $100,000 in annual salary on average. The law would also provide a state income tax credit to the company for the jobs it creates, a state and local property tax credit as well as an exemption from the sales and use tax for construction materials used to build its headquarters.
Hogan also provided a bit of insight into the ongoing negations with Amazon. He said about three weeks ago he and other state and county officials met with Amazon representatives at Strathmore and spent the day with them.
“I think they were very impressed with the presentation,” Hogan said. County officials have said the White Flint area was pitched to Amazon for the project.
On the Metro funding, Korman described it as a long overdue policy that puts Metro on equal footing with other major transit systems in the U.S. that have dedicated, bondable streams of funding.
“Over the past few years, a lot of us were just seeing the struggles of Metro and trying to bring more action to it and trying to come up with actual solutions,” Korman said. “One of those solutions, not the only one, is dedicated funding. We spent a lot of time to build a broad coalition around that.”
As Metro has struggled with safety and maintenance issues, it undertook the year-long SafeTrack program to catch up on deferred maintenance and launched the Back2Good promise to make the system more reliable.
As the work was underway, leading to single-tracking and station closures, Metro’s ridership declined. Weekday ridership numbers averaged about 613,000 trips across the system in 2017, the lowest level since 2000.
“This money alone will not turn that around,” Korman said. “But hopefully the things they can use the money for, the investments they can make to make the service better, more reliable and make the service feel more safe—that’s going to draw the riders back.”