Kaine: ‘We Need to Be Worried’ About Death Spiral of D.C. Metro System

WASHINGTON – Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Hillary Clinton’s running mate in the 2016 election, said the public should be “worried” about the D.C. Metro heading into a death spiral without the proper funding and federal commitments.

Kaine, a member of the Senate Budget Committee, said he opposes the Department of Transportation cuts in the Trump’s administration budget proposal, adding that he was “surprised” infrastructure was missing from the budget plan.

“I think that’s kind of a big win for an administration right out of the gate and an area of bipartisan accord, so to not see some down payment on infrastructure or a suggestion that we are going to do something on that I would say was surprising,” he said Monday during a tour of the SafeTrack work zone on Metro’s Blue Line with Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority General Manager Paul Wiedefeld.

Kaine was asked if he regrets saying previously that he was optimistic about Trump’s infrastructure plans given the new budget proposal.

“I never like to say I was naive. I’ve never admitted that, but, look, I was optimistic and I would say I am still optimistic because the president likes building, likes infrastructure… got a lot of votes for that reason. I did think he would tackle that out of the gate. My experience having been an executive is you only have as much juice right after you’re elected as you’re ever going to have – why not do the thing where you could pull some people together?” the former Virginia governor said.

“And I was discouraged that the opening budget not only didn’t move forward on that but suggested even stepping back and ‘we’ll do infrastructure down the line.’ I would like to try to work with the administration and others to try to convince them to do it sooner rather than later. Metro could be a beneficiary of that, but not just Metro,” he added.

Kaine said it is too early to tell how Trump’s budget would impact the Metro.

“You can’t do safety improvements – you can’t make this safer for constituents without spending money. We’re sort of in a tug-of-war generally about Metro funding where we’re trying to convince Congress we’ve got to have steady, reliable funding – and of course I’m interested in safety improvements. I’m interested in those issues, too, but it is important for Metro to have some certainty. And so the budget proposal last week, which has a 13 percent cut to the transportation agencies generally, we don’t know exactly how that’s going to filter down into line items,” he said.

“I am on the Budget Committee and I’ll be working with that committee and then encouraging appropriators who work on transportation appropriations to make sure that cut is as modest as possible, but we can’t get the safety improvements we need and the customer service we need if we’re starving our system of oxygen,” he added.

Kaine was asked if he thinks the Metro, which among other issues has a pattern of smoke-and-fire incidents, is in a “death spiral” right now.

“I don’t think we’re in it, but we need to be worried about it and cutting and starving it of the oxygen and starving it of the funding will hurt this system. Our region doesn’t work without Metro so, I mean, anytime you hurt a system and you put in a prospect of reducing ridership, it’s just jamming our roads up more. The system – we just do not work without Metro. We all know that. We have to be focused on it,” he replied.

When asked if he supports a federal control board for the Metro, Kaine said, “I am very open to governance changes. I mean, obviously I’ve introduced a bill in Congress with others on the safety commission and the governance discussion I’m open t,  but I think the notion of ‘let’s make some changes and we’ll see if people like them enough to provide funding’ – that’s not the right way to do it. We ought to be working hand-in-hand knowing we’ve got two more years and then hopefully we can come up with another 10-year commitment.”

Kaine also said “nobody likes” the fare increases being considered and he hopes future hikes would be kept to a minimum.

“Right now, that’s one of the reasons I hope we can provide them certainty in funding and they can keep those fare increases to a minimum – that’s on our shoulders to try and figure out a way to do that,” the senator said.

Trump’s budget request would increase defense spending and reduce domestic spending by eliminating funding for NPR, PBS and the National Endowment for the Arts. Some conservatives have called for Trump to embrace reforms of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid to reduce future federal spending. Kaine was asked if he would support entitlement reform.

“There’s long been a desire to look at entitlements and look at tax expenditures – which are the parts of the budget that grow as a percentage of GDP along with interest payments, everything else is shrinking, and let’s look at them together but you really have to look at them together. We’re not going to just want to look at one side of the T-chart and not look at both sides,” he said.

“I will say I wasn’t completely surprised that this budget didn’t tackle it because this is a budget, to be fair the administration, they’ve been in for a couple of months, they are going to come in and this budget was going to be a little more streamlined, at least. I wasn’t surprised to see it.”