Virginia is halfway through a whirlwind legislative session. How are new laws going to change the lives of Virginians? And Montgomery County Public Schools are taking the first steps toward redistricting, making some parents and students hopeful and others angry. How might the process end?
Metro General Manager Paul Wiedefeld joins us to discuss the state of the transit agency, from ongoing platform repairs and the fallout from the Jack Evans ethics investigation to the upcoming move to a new headquarters at L’Enfant Plaza and questions over funding.
Then we speak to Maryland State Senator Paul Pinsky. As Chair of Maryland Senate’s Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, he shares his perspective on the ongoing debate over how to pay for major changes to the state’s education system, the future of renewable energy in Maryland and more.
Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we’re at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies, and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
Produced by Mark Gunnery
KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to The Politics Hour, re-starring -- is that even a word? Well, anyway he's back. Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a contributing writer for Washington City Paper. Tom Sherwood, welcome.
TOM SHERWOODWelcome. Good afternoon, everyone.
NNAMDILater in the broadcast we'll be talking with Maryland State Senator Paul Pinsky, and joining in studio now is Paul Wiedefeld. He's General Manager and Chief Executive Officer of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Paul Wiedefeld, welcome.
PAUL WIEDEFELDGood afternoon Kojo and Tom.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, before we begin our conversation with Paul Wiedefeld, what's going on in Virginia with the Virginia Crime Commission? We know that there was a special session of the General Assembly called by Governor Northam to look at bills to try to exercise more gun control in Virginia. That session didn't last very long and was dismissed. But now the Virginia Crime Commission is looking at days of testimony that was rendered by a dozen, oh no, a few dozen proposed bills.
SHERWOODYeah. 78 bills.
SHERWOODRight, yes. Well, after the Virginia Beach shooting Governor Northam asked for a special session of the legislature. The Republicans thought it was a political ploy. They went to Richmond, and after about 90 minutes they adjourned saying that the Virginia State Crime Commission would take a look at all 78 bills. The Virginia Crime Commission has just had two days of hearings where I think legislators got three minutes, and the members of the public got two to propose all these. And then they said, well, we'll have a report for the legislature in the middle of November, which is conveniently after the November elections for the State Assembly.
SHERWOODSo the real importance of that is not what the Virginia Crime Commission says, but whether or not the Democrats take control of either the House or the Senate in the November elections, and then the gun debate in Virginia will shift dramatically. If the Republicans retain control, you might see some change, but no major change.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, pressure has been mounting on D.C. Metro Board Representative Corbett Price to resign, why?
SHERWOODWell, Corbett Price was on the ethics panel that reviewed the behavior of former chairman Jack Evans, and he along with Jack Evans who was then Chairman of the Board attempted -- tried to get the Ethics Committee not to make public any finding. They had looked at a dozen, 15, 16, 17 different alleged violations. Found only one that Jack Evans had not disclosed a consulting arrangement. And in the past as I understood it Metro Ethics Panel investigations are not made public unless the Ethics Panel wants to report to the board, but in this case the ethics' findings were released were leaked to the Washington Post, and so that kind of blew up the whole thing. But that's what it was. Evans and Corbett Price, who's the Mayor's representative on the board, didn't want this ethics' finding to be made public because Jack Evans said he would in fact disclose the arrangement and not run for the board again, so --
NNAMDIAnd Jack Evans, of course, stepped down as Chairman of the board.
SHERWOODJust very quickly, Corbett Price who was reappointed by the Mayor earlier this year about five of the thirteen Council members were against it saying that his wife's company had messed up the United Medical Center, and that he was not really a resident of the District very much, and that he should not be on the board anymore. Phil Mendelson the Chairman of the Council says he will take up the Corbett Price matter when he returns from vacation early next month.
NNAMDIPaul Wiedefeld, how do you negotiate this relationship with the board when the board is having political scandals? Can you weigh in on these issues at all? Are these issues about which your opinion is ever asked?
WIEDEFELDUh, my opinion asked, but the reality is the board is the board. I work on the operations side of the House and that's where I focus on.
NNAMDIAnd so you, even though you weigh in you're not prepared to reveal publically what you said?
WIEDEFELDNo, I do not weigh in, I get asked.
NNAMDIOh, you do not weigh in.
WIEDEFELDNo, you asked if I was asked, and yes I am asked. But I do not give an opinion, because again, the board has its own process, and they focus on policy issues and board issues. And I work on the day-to-day operations.
SHERWOODAnd the board meets, is it every Thursday the board meets? Maybe there's a summertime vacation.
WIEDEFELDThey're all at (word?).
SHERWOODBut does it -- it must at least complicate your staff's dealing with the board when you know there's such turmoil -- not turmoil. It's the turnover. It can complicate it, but you just don't weigh in on the politics of it, is that right? There must be some complication.
WIEDEFELDSure. No, of course, we don't weigh in on the politics of it, but you know, like any board, you know, boards change. There's turnover and things of that sort. We just, what I constantly stress to my staff is that is not your lane. Stay in your lane. And we focus on what we do. And keep that focus.
NNAMDIBut former Alexandria council member, Paul Smedberg became Metro Board Chair after Jack Evans stepped down, how are you getting along with him?
WIEDEFELDVery well, I get along with all the board members I believe very well. Paul is a very solid gentleman, a good leader. And we've met several times on, you know, his style. He has a different style obviously than Mr. Evans.
WIEDEFELDHe's quieter, but he just has a different style. And so I just want to make sure I'm meeting his needs. So we're working on some things. And we'll be working very closely in the future. I get together with him on a frequent basis.
SHERWOODAnd you work pretty well with Evans too. He was the one pressing hard for Governor for the Virginia and Maryland to step up and fund Metro, and he did all that, but you worked well with him on those things.
WIEDEFELDYeah. I mean part of my job is working with well with all the board members.
SHERWOODWell, you know, the board is, you know, for the last, let's get right to what the riders of Metro may want to be interested in. The board for the last three years has held the line on fare increases. Usually Metro has raised the fares about every two years. You have to present that next year's budget, which will be approved I think next June or July. You have to though present it to the board I think starting in November why you're not going to get ahead of your skis on what you're going to do and not do. Isn't it reasonable to expect there will be some kind of fare increases, given that we've gone three years without them?
WIEDEFELDYeah. The board's policy was to actually revisit every two years, and to consider every two years. Obviously with some of the things that we've been working through I had not recommended it. And we have been focusing on some of the financial issues in other ways. And will continue to do that. What's changed this upcoming budget's cycle though is the 3 percent cap on operating subsidy, as you're aware of. And that was --
SHERWOODThat was a commitment for the Maryland or Virginia --
WIEDEFELDVirginia and Maryland for --
WIEDEFELDExactly, for the dedicated funding, and if we don't hit that we lose capital funding. So that's why it's very important to hit. So we will continue to focus on that. You know, I look at it as we want to always think of ways to be more efficient, to reduce costs, but also it's as much of a revenue issue for us. So let's focus on ridership. Let's focus on joint development. Let's focus on advertising and things where we can generate revenue, 'cause again, the subsidy is a combination of cost and revenue.
SHERWOODAnd to be clear, before you go to Kojo, riders fares account for 60 percent, what percent of operating budget, not capital?
WIEDEFELDOh, no, much larger than that.
SHERWOODIt's even larger?
WIEDEFELDOh, yes, no, you're talking a bit more about fare backs recovery is I think where you're getting your numbers.
SHERWOODRight. That's actually the meanings, are you going to increase fares? And you're actually --
WIEDEFELDAnd you're right. I'm not going to get ahead of my skis.
SHERWOOD-- probably you're not going to answer, but I'm going to say probably.
NNAMDIThe state of Maryland is withholding $56 million dollars in funding for Metro saying that the agency is not being transparent in how it spends its money. You are calling on the Governor to release that money. Saying you're making a good faith effort to move forward. Where are we with that now?
WIEDEFELDWe're moving along. We've had several conversations with staff from the department. I had a direct conversation with the Secretary of Maryland, Department, Pete Rahn. And we're actually having some meetings coming up next week. And I mean from Maryland's perspective, which I totally understand and agree, because they want to make sure they know where every dollar goes and it's spent wisely. And I have no issues with that. There are some issues we need to get to that. Some of this is looking at historical numbers, And some of those are hard to replicate now years later. So we'll have to work through some of those.
WIEDEFELDBut going forward, particularly with the capital program, they want a sort of a different approach with the capital program, particularly how we show what we're doing with those dollars. I'm very familiar. I ran the capital program for Maryland Department of Transportation for almost 10 years. I know exactly the types of things they're looking for. So we will work at doing that.
NNAMDIWell, you seem to be confident that you can work out a deal with Governor Hogan eventually.
WIEDEFELDYeah. I don't think it's as much a deal. It's just making sure that we're getting what they need as they review our budget, both operating capital. So that's as much a negotiation as well.
SHERWOODBut this was like $56, $57 million dollars. But the next payment is due September the 1st. In the matter of a week there'll be another payment due. And this is unique in that neither D.C. nor Virginia to my knowledge have withheld payments to Metro demanding that their concerns be met. It seems to be, I mean, have you actually spoken directly to the Governor about the, how wise or not wise or politically not smart it is to undermine the Interstate Compact by withholding such large funds?
WIEDEFELDI've not spoken directly to the Governor, but --
SHERWOODLater on is virtually the same thing.
WIEDEFELDBut it is an issue for us that we have to solve. So we're working very hard with the Department at State (unintelligible).
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Am I right, no other jurisdiction in D.C. and Virginia have not withheld large sums of money?
WIEDEFELDNo. In fact, Virginia has put in their money, so --
NNAMDIEarlier this month you said that Metro is on track for the September 9th reopening of a half dozen stations closed on the blue and yellow lines over the summer for platform work. That is unless there's a major storm. There have been some serious storms including one this week. How is the progress going, and how much of a concern is the weather for you?
WIEDEFELDIt's going well, and but, you know, we're very close, and it's going very well. So I expect us to hit the 9th, but again, if something comes up the east coast on us very quickly, that could change that.
NNAMDIIs that why you're looking outside nervously?
WIEDEFELDExactly, I'm watching right behind you, Kojo, right now.
SHERWOODWell, you know, I was seeing that the capital bike share. I mean, one of the things is when you've stopped all these six stations, people have to find alternative routes, where they're finding buses, or driving or carpooling or whatever else they're doing. Is there concern that you'll, some of them won't come back, that they'll just have acclimated themselves to these alternatives, and won't come back?
WIEDEFELDThat's a possibility, but I think, A, when you see the product of what we have when it comes back, I think will be a lot different than what they experienced when they were there before. But more importantly, at the end of the day I think we offer a very reliable service that is a great alternative to a lot of other alternatives they have, particularly traveling by car.
SHERWOODIs this the largest most sustained stopping of a whole segment of stations? I was trying to think of another one.
WIEDEFELDI believe it is. It's also one of the largest actual capital programs we've done in such a condensed period of time. You know, it is amazing. I don't know if you've been out there, but these are major, major projects. Every one of these are very extensive projects. And so it is quite a lift for us, and for our contractor.
SHERWOODA lot of people take Metro to go to the Reagan National Airport. I was there just this past week twice, and there's a lot of construction going on there. At some point that Metro station is going to be enclosed, would that be another stopping of the Metro system there or will that be --
WIEDEFELDI don't know the details on that yet how we would do that. We have some options there because of the layout of the track there.
SHERWOODAnd can we do one more thing on Silver Spring on the line -- that Silver line --Silver Spring -- the Silver line? There was some confusion Mr. Smedberg cleared it up a little. That Metro is not building the Silver line extension out to Dulles. That is being done by the Airport Authority, and you're going to get maybe control of it next summer. But that doesn't mean it's going to open, because you have to confirm that it's ready to go, and that the concrete in fact is concrete and not wet sand, and that it's actually is a good system. Is that correct?
WIEDEFELDActually, Tom, that's a good one. There's two points there. One is we have a role that when they basically say they're done construction wise, then we have to go and test everything that's out there. And that is maybe 60, 90 days just to do that, and that's assuming you don't find any issues. And that's what we did in Phase 1. This one that it has a little bit more complicated, as you know, this is very, very big project. And big projects have issues. I understand that being in this business for a while. But there's three major issues that we're concerned about, obviously, the running rail, the main line. There's issues in the rail yard, and as you know, then some of the other quality issues like the panels for instance, the concrete panels. Those are very large issues for us, because if we have to get in there to do work on any one of those three, we're impacting customers. So --
SHERWOODPlus the additional cost?
WIEDEFELDAnd much less the cost, I mean the cost is huge. That could be a potential a huge issue. But we don't want to open a brand new system and have to get out there and do single tracking, or anything of that sort in the very near future. So that is our biggest concern. So we want to make sure that is solid first before we even entertain entering into that 60 to 90 day clock. So that is what we are focusing on now.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back we'll continue our conversation with Paul Wiedefeld, General Manager and Chief Executive of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, WMATA. If you have questions give us a call. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to The Politics Hour, where Tom Sherwood is our resident analyst. He's a contributing writer for Washington City Paper. And we're talking with Paul Wiedefeld, the General Manager of Metro. We got an e-mail from Richard, who said, when is some kind of regular service going to return to the Red Line on weekends? I repeatedly have to put off or cancel plans because of the unusable schedule.
WIEDEFELDThe weekends right now are unfortunately at the time where we have to do a lot of our major work. We are looking at ways to reduce that and be more consistent with what we provide on weekends. A large part of that is the preventable maintenance work that we do. And then some of the other major capital work we do on the weekends. We want to get there as quick as we can. At a minimum provide consistent levels of service on weekends people can count on. I think what we hear from customers is when it varies, and they don't know what to expect. But if you give people consistent, even if the headway is a little bit longer, I think that that is what we're aiming to do.
SHERWOODIf they know what to expect.
WIEDEFELDExactly, exactly, but if it changes week to week --
SHERWOODWhat about a flat fare? What about a flat fare on the weekend? Is that something maybe in your next budget we could hear about?
WIEDEFELDIf we would consider anything on that fare issue would be, both the issue raised earlier about potential raising of fares and also this thing called the 3 percent operating subsidy.
NNAMDIAnd then FiniteBuffalo tweet says, Ramada runs schools, shuttles and other parts of D.C. such as the DMW Series routes from Dee and Wilson schools, the 16th Street North West. Would Ramada consider a bus for the kids staying at the New York Avenue Shelters, even just a shuttle down New York Avenue to the Metro?
WIEDEFELDWe can look at, we cannot run the shuttles just for schools. I mean, that's a charter operation, which we're not allowed to do. So they're open to the public. So we could look at, we can look at and we do look at other opportunities where there are, you know, the major destination points or origin destination points.
SHERWOODAnd the circulator in the city it's separate from Metro. So maybe the Mayor or the Council could look at the circulators with those children who have enough trouble getting along.
NNAMDIMetro hero an app that tracks trains and buses partners with the coalition for smarter growth to study Metro bus routes for speed and reliability. They did that for a month earlier this summer, producing a report card that gave the bus a D grade, saying that buses on many routes are both slow and not running on time. What's your response to that report card?
WIEDEFELDI think that you could apply that grade to the roadway itself, because we don't fly over the cars. We're in the midst of them. So the reality is they can only move as quick as the traffic can move. And that's the challenge we face. As you may know there's been a bus effort that's being done now. A bus transformation effort that's being done by an independent or a steering group of some high level people and some community people, and that's one of the biggest things they've come out with. Is how do we pick up the speed of the buses? And the District's been a leader in that, in some of the things they are testing right now. And also what they have been talking about on K Street. Those are the things that you see around the world when you want a bus to be more competitive, you have to give it some time advantage.
SHERWOODBut, you know, there was -- I'm sorry the name is escaping me now. This online organization that did a one day test of the bus line. I think it was on --
SHERWOODH Street. And these lanes even though the Mayor was out there wielding one of the paint brushes, painting them a different color, putting up signs, doing all he can to make these things visually. Something you wouldn't want to be its cars and the trucks are just using them routinely, 'cause everyone wants to just park for the 30 seconds or 45 seconds. And the buses just cannot get through. Don't they have to, wouldn't it be smart in all your transportation planning that the bus lanes have to be like some bike lanes, dedicated and physically separate from these marauding cars that just go wherever the hell they want?
WIEDEFELDYes, ideally. And that again, that's what you see when this works very well, is again, you have to, at a minimum you have to enforce it very strictly, but ideally you would want it to be separate. And we have some of that. We have some of that in Virginia. Maryland is looking at some of that. And again, I think the K Street models are a little bit closer to that. What they're talking about doing on K Street.
NNAMDIHere now is Heather in Ward 1 in D.C. Heather, you're on the air, go ahead please.
HEATHERThank you. I'm calling in as an analyst of older adult transportation. And I have two commendations for Mr. Wiedefeld and two suggestions. The first commendation is that Ramada's Christain Blake earlier and now Carol Lopez has played a really positive role on the city's age friendly D.C. Transportation Committee on which I serve as a community member.
HEATHERThe second commendation is thank you for reopening the Metro Center's Sales Office, which is really key to older adults, who don't do all their business on Smartphones, and it, I think potentially, could help increase senior ridership.
NNAMDINow for the denunciations.
HEATHERFirst suggestion, please include the signage for the Metro Center Station Sales Office. It's not easy to find at all. And my second suggestion, please assure clearer and standardize messaging from operators when a train stops at a station, and then needs to move forward a bit. The message of step back, seems oriented to riders on the platform. And twice in the last two years I've seen older adult tourists drop to their knees, not fall entirely when they didn't expect forward movement after the train had stopped at the station. Thank you.
NNAMDIHeather, thank you very much. Paul Wiedefeld has been taking copious notes. So he's obviously intends to be on this, so to speak.
SHERWOODAs a person, who's eligible for a senior card. Do you have to go physically downtown to get that card? My ex-wife gave me hers. She said, but you have to get it updated to yourself. Where do you go to get the senior card, which is a great economic benefit.
WIEDEFELDActually you can do both. But let's --
SHERWOODYou can do it online?
WIEDEFELDYeah, I believe so. I don't want to get into all the details of that, 'cause I don't have that on the top of my head. If I could just on Heather though, A, Thank you for those comments. The signage thing obviously is one that we can get to. The, in terms of the operators making announcements, it is both for the people on the platform, but it should be made also for internally so that people hold on, and I do hear that a lot of the times. They say, please hold on while moving. But I do have, I had the chance. I do want to make one plug. We would love to have some standardized messaging. As Kojo knows I've reached out to him several times for him to be the voice of Metro. I think when you look at other properties, rather than a mechanical voice or a computer voice, it would be nice to have some people from the region be sort of the voice of Metro.
SHERWOODI know you can't stay much longer. The nationals of baseball team is surprisingly doing well the second half of the season. It's possible they could be in the playoff season, which could again raise this issue of late night games. And Metro there is thousands of people leave games earlier in order to get home to Virginia and elsewhere. Sixty percent of the Nats fans come from Virginia. Many of them use Metro, but they can't stay for the completion of the games. Is there any progress at all on how to address the additional cost there, so there won't, so the fans don't have to desert the stadium?
WIEDEFELDYeah. So we started to revise that policy, A, to give it some flexibility for certain type of events. The dollars are an issue. We've asked the board to setup and effect some separate dollars for these types of events, whether it's that, or it's a visit of the Pope or whatever it might be. So that is something that we're pursuing, because the reality is that's much better to say, okay, that is a recognizable issue we may have to face. It's tied to this larger issue of a, you know, we have a $1.8 billion dollar, I'm sorry, over a $2 billion dollar operating budget with no contingencies. And so that's amazing for a large operating to say, you have no contingency fund. So anything comes down the pike we literally have to somehow eat internally or go back and ask for more money.
SHERWOODAnd I just have one more thing. I went back to your November 2016 address to the National Press Club and I watched it. And we were asking about federal funds. The federal government gives capital money but doesn't fund the operating of the system, even though so many of its workers use the system. You called it a disgrace that this system is not properly funded giving that the people come here from around the world. Is there any hope that the federal government might put in some operating money to get their own employees to work?
WIEDEFELDOperating is tough when it's an industry wide issue. And that was something that was eliminated industry wide, not just Washington wide. We're very fortunate that we've had federal money on what we call the PRIIA money, the separate money, the $150 million per year that gets reinvested in the capital. That is huge. That money, as you know, dries up at the end of September, and we're working very hard to get that extended.
NNAMDIMetro's 3rd Quarter Performance Report shows that ridership is up by about 70 million from the previous order, yet it's still more than 2 million riders below what was forecast in the budget forecast. What do you think accounts for the rise since earlier this year? As well as the lower than expected numbers overall?
WIEDEFELDYeah. What we see happening is rail actually has been increasing. You can't go by the first of the year, because of the shutdown, the government shutdown, but since the government shutdown it's up about three percent. And that's in the context of the, you know, the platform shutdown. So, that's moving in the right direction, for sure. The bus is a different issue. Again, the bus -- and, again, it's not only unique to Washington across the nation, because we're all facing that same issue.
WIEDEFELDWe have buses, we have the equipment, we have the people, but they're stuck in traffic that's doing three and four miles per hour. And so, someone says, well, I'm not going to do that. I'm going to do something else. And so that, again, is key to getting more bus ridership out.
SHERWOODBut the --
NNAMDI(overlapping) Go ahead.
SHERWOODI would say the Capitol Bike Share, the D.C. Department of Transportation just announced that it's going to offer Capitol Bike Share to all college students in all the major colleges in the city that are based here. They can have the Capitol Bike Share and ride bikes for $25 a year instead of 85, and, again, that's going to take healthy, substantial numbers of college students who have been using Metro away from the system. Microtransit, whether it's a scooter or even walking, seems to be a real problem for Metro, going forward.
WIEDEFELDA problem, but I look at it a little differently, Tom. You know, the market's telling you what they want, and we have to respond to the market, rather than say no, don't do that, do us.
SHERWOODAnd we have mopeds, too.
WIEDEFELDYeah, mopeds, you name it. And who knows what's coming, right? But we do have, for instance, in the case of American University, we have a program where, basically, all the students get to ride our transit for a very flat fee, in effect, that we charge the university up front, and then they ride anywhere.
SHERWOODAnd it's the same concept: if you use us once, maybe you'll use us more. If you get used to using us, and particularly at a younger age, you'll use us into the future. And we look to other universities to do that, as well. We think that is a very good opportunity to grow ridership.
NNAMDIHeather, who called earlier, has an answer to your question, Tom. Heather, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
HEATHERYes. I just wanted to add to my earlier comment and commendations that seniors do need to go in person to purchase their original SmarTrip card, because they need to present picture ID. And that's why it's so important that Metro reopened the sales office at Metro Center Station, and also why it's important that seniors know where they can buy the cards.
NNAMDIThank you. Thank you very much.
SHERWOODThank you very much.
NNAMDIIs the Metro headquarters going to move, and where is -- are you in that, or is that a board decision?
WIEDEFELDNo, that's -- well, it is a board decision, and the decision's been made. So, in fact --
NNAMDIMoving to L'Enfant Plaza.
WIEDEFELDL'Enfant Plaza, and --
SHERWOODThat must -- did that happen while I was away? Over by the Spy Museum?
SHERWOODThat's -- yeah, that's where the Spy --
WIEDEFELDThey're there, yes.
SHERWOODYou probably don't know that there's where the Spy --
WIEDEFELDNo, I know it is. I've been there. Yeah, no, in fact, we've been working with them, because they want the connection between us and the Spy Museum. No, we -- and hopefully, we'll be starting construction very shortly.
SHERWOODBut there's a great deal of equipment there in that ugly old building at Sixth Street that has to change.
NNAMDICommander Bozo had a question --
NNAMDI-- that I think Tom Sherwood can answer. "Please address the fare-jumpers in the Tacoma Metro. At the elevator to the platform, there's a fare gate, but 50 percent of those simply go through the alternate gate without paying. Personnel at the station say there's nothing they can do. At least cameras could be installed. Even if they install cameras, those people will not be prosecuted."
SHERWOODWell, with the -- yeah, that's -- well, not within the District of Columbia, but is there not a way to change the fare gates so they're not -- I don't mean put up gates like they have in New York, those horrible things like you're in prison. But I'm told that there are modern ways to put in fare gates, where you cannot easily jump them.
WIEDEFELDYes. In fact, it's what we're doing. There's a few things we're doing, actually. The fare swing gates, what we call swing gates for getting equipment out, and in some cases, people with disabilities, those used to be totally open. We've locked those now, for instance, so low that you would have to physically jump that.
WIEDEFELDBut we are -- we will be rolling out new fare gates, and they have some of that same technology. They're longer, they're a little bit taller. They have alarms, and the paddles are a little different. So, it does address that. But the reality is, if someone wants to get over them, they will.
WIEDEFELDYou know, of a certain age.
SHERWOODIt's a crime of convenience for some people. They just -- it's easier to -- if it's easy to do, they simply do it.
SHERWOODThey'll pay if they have to.
WIEDEFELDThat's right. And we want to make it more difficult to do that.
NNAMDIPaul Wiedefeld is the general manager and chief executive officer of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, WMATA. Thank you so much for joining us.
WIEDEFELDThank you, Kojo. And thank you, Tom.
NNAMDIGonna take a short break. When we come back, we'll be talking with Maryland State Senator Paul Pinsky. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Paul Pinsky. He's a Maryland state senator. He's a Democrat, representing district 22, which is in Prince Georges County. Senator Pinsky, good to see you.
PAUL PINSKYGreat to be here.
NNAMDITom Sherwood, there's a bill that the D.C. Council approved of that would let violent offenders out of prison early. And, apparently, the U.S. attorney is opposed to it, and she seems to have found an ally, of sorts, in Mayor Muriel Bowser. The councilmembers who support this legislation, however, say it's based on understanding the updated science of how the brain works.
NNAMDIIf somebody commits a crime when they're still a teenager, that person is not likely to commit the same kind of crime when they are in their 30s and 40s.
SHERWOODWell, you know, Jessie Louis, the U.S. attorney, she prosecutes all violent crimes in the District of Columbia, and she's opposing the Council's Second Look Act. You know, there is a law already in the city where if you're under -- if you committed a crime prior to your 18th birthday, and you have served 15 years in prison, you can appeal to have your sentence reduced based on your rehabilitation record in prison.
SHERWOODThe new law would raise that age to 24. Charles Allen, Ward 6, has promoted the bill. Attorney General Karl Racine supports the bill. There's been a back-and-forth about it. If the -- some people appreciate that Lou, as a prosecutor, can weigh in on this, but she's doing more than that. She's making a public campaign against it, and she's even called a meeting for September 5th.
SHERWOODShe's invited all, like, 300 advisory neighborhood commissioners to come in in the evening and to hear why they should not let the council pass this law. The mayor has been not firmly one side or the other against it. She said we need to know more information about what the rehabilitation has been. But there's this alarmist headline that, you know, "Protect crime victims, 500 murderers and rapists could be released." That's the press release that's going out to all the ANCs.
SHERWOODAnd Charles Allen and Karl Racine have said, "Oh, wait, hold on, hold on, here. We are talking about a systematic look at people who have been in prison for 15 years, and whether or not it is smart to keep them locked up," after the '80s and '90s, where the whole idea was to lock everybody up. So, that's where we are.
NNAMDIPaul Pinsky, education advocates in Maryland are looking towards the future for long-term solutions in education funding. Figuring out how to raise and spend money for education has been the task of the Kirwan Commission in Maryland, which met yesterday. You're chair of the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee in the Maryland Senate. What do you think about the progress of the Kirwan Commission so far?
PINSKYWell, I also serve on the Commission for over two years, and the charge --
SHERWOODWhen did it start, just for people -- it's been -- it seems like it's been around forever. When did it start?
PINSKYI think the charge came out in 2016, and then we spent two-plus years on the charges. Originally, one charge was to come up with a new formula for how money is distributed across the state. But there was an important second charge, and that was: how do we make Maryland schools world-class? And we actually started with that charge, and spent over two years.
PINSKYAnd, again, there were 25 members, lots of academics, private sector, local and state government. And we came up with a pretty sophisticated plan, which is getting a lot of notoriety nationally, so it's --
PINSKYYeah, no, I --
PINSKYAs a template for others to use. Unfortunately, the governor last week called it "half-baked," even though all of the members of his party voted for the original plan and the down-payment that we passed this last session. It's, I believe, transformative. We benchmarked the most successful countries around the world, and the successful states, and what it would take to actually implement it in Maryland and make it world-class for all students. And I think it's a transformative plan.
SHERWOODThe governor hasn't complained about the goals of the plan, the ambitious goals of the plan, but speaking to the Maryland Associations of Counties, he called it, to all the counties who will also face -- what, 26 counties? -- will face --
SHERWOODTwenty-four -- will face additional costs for their own role in this. He says it's a "gathering storm," and that the Kirwan Commission, while it's a great idea of what could be done, there's no funding. Are you -- I'm told you might have a hearing in October about funding?
PINSKYWell, he also did call it half-baked. I mean, that --
NNAMDI(overlapping) And "fiscally irresponsible."
SHERWOODHe says the money -- you have not identified how to pay for it, and he's opposed to huge taxes on state taxpayers.
NNAMDIHe says he's going to need to raise the income tax by 39 percent, the sales tax by 89 percent, or the property tax by 530 percent to pay for the Kirwan plan. What say you?
PINSKYAnd they were typical scare tactics. He also introduced a billion-dollar tax cut this last session, without a way to pay for it. So, we shouldn’t be surprised at that comment. We wanted to develop the plan, the implementation plan, before we talked about what it would cost. I mean, you can't figure out the cost until you figure out what it's going to look like.
SHERWOODRight, what you're going to do.
WIEDEFELDAnd it's a 10-year phase-in. So, it's not all of a sudden, and these are best practices. And one of our charges --
SHERWOODOh, that's -- that gets lost. It's a 10-year phase-in. All right.
PINSKYAbsolutely. The one -- the $3.6 billion doesn't kick in till the very last year, and that we split between the state and the county. Now, the governor has said it'll all come from income tax. Well, it could also be a tax on services. Services are not taxed. It could be closing corporate loopholes. Those discussions are just beginning, and we're starting to have that dialogue of what makes the most sense.
PINSKYBut, you know, the private sector comes to us, and they say we don't have enough highly qualified people to work in our employ. We have parents who are saying, our children are not challenged enough. So, part of what we're trying to do is develop a program that actually makes our schools world-class. Right now, Maryland is in the middle of the pack, nationally, and the United States, sadly, is in the middle of the pack, internationally. So, we have benchmarked the most successful programs, and it really is transformative.
SHERWOODWhat -- give -- beyond the academics, give us --
SHERWOODLike what's a good example of how to change the school system. You know, Howard County this week is looking to change the boundaries to get better integration of people. But what is just one good example of just how you would change things?
PINSKYWell, I chaired the teacher quality workgroup.
PINSKYIn every other country, the teacher is highly respected. It's hard to become teachers. They're paid at a salary commensurate with comparable jobs, whether it be CPA, architect, or nurse. It is more difficult to get into a teacher prep program. It is more difficult to get into the profession. The training is different, the salary is different --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) So, what -- what --
PINSKY-- and then having your career lapse --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) But what is the -- but, clearly, the proposal of who's going to pay any taxes that occur is -- and how is it going to address the classroom? You're changing the nature of how teachers will be educated and put into the classroom?
PINSKYAnd who we attract.
NNAMDIThey're also trying to attract more and more and higher quality teachers.
PINSKYRight. We want to start to attract people who would otherwise become doctors, lawyers, or CEOs. And in many other countries, they actually are able to attract those people because of the quality of the leadership in the school, the salary, the career lattice, the challenge to get into the profession. And I think we have to have a culture change in this state to start attracting our best and brightest.
PINSKYActually, we have a scholarship proposal that the students with a high SAT or high GPA will have free college tuition, room, and board if they go into teaching.
SHERWOODFor how long?
PINSKYWell, if they --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Five, 10 years, at least?
PINSKYWell, they have to -- for each year they get the scholarship, say, four years, they have to work in a high-needs school. We want to get our best and brightest before the kids who need it the most.
SHERWOODWhat does the governor want to do to pay -- well, before we get to that, let me ask this. Here's one of the problems I have, is for my 50 years of journalism, there's always a great leap forward in education. And somebody was on social media this morning mentioning how Martin O'Malley, the governor, said, look, if we just have a couple of casinos, we can dedicate that money for schools.
SHERWOODAnd now, Maryland looks like Las Vegas without the neon lights, with casinos everywhere. They're cannibalizing each other, but there's all that money, the fights over it. That didn't solve the problem. Why should we be expecting this Kirwan Commission, even if you fund it, is going to do anything?
PINSKYWell, one of the differences in this proposal is accountability. Much of the money will be held back, unless the local jurisdictions, all 24 of them, actually implement it with fidelity. These are not -- these are not --
SHERWOODAll 24? One county --
SHERWOOD-- can negate all the other 23?
PINSKYNo, no, no. In other words --
PINSKYBut, in other words, right now and historically, each county's gotten a block grant, and they spend it almost as they will. We have said you have to implement these recommendations with fidelity that are tried and true, and have been proven internationally and across the nation.
PINSKYAnd there's also an independent oversight board that's going to say, you're not doing it right, you're not going to get the money. It's not going to be the State Department of Education, the State Board of Education, other politicians.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Does the Kirwan Commission say, seems to me the simple thing to do, without reinventing the wheel is, that by the third grade, every student will read on grade level and do math on grade level, or something will be a major intervention. Seems to me just -- you can hear by the frustration in my voice that this is an ambitious proposal, lots of money, and I'm just concerned about how it's going to play out.
PINSKYNo, a totally fair concern and question. Rather than set dictates, we say there has to be significant tutoring, particularly in high-needs and concentration of poverty, between kindergarten and third grade. We also call for pre-K, full-day pre-K, for age three for low-income folks, free for age four, and available to all for age four.
PINSKYYou know what happens, the students are six steps behind their --
PINSKY-- middle-class neighbors when they go in.
PINSKYAnd it's tough to make that up, you know? And if they don't get the support early, and even once they enter school, that gap's going to fall further and further behind by class and by race. And we have to have a system that ensures those supports are in place by third grade. But rather than just have a dictate, we have actual concrete suggestions.
NNAMDILast week, Governor Hogan signed an executive order establishing a task force on renewable energy. It was similar to a bill that you sponsored last legislative session that passed the Senate unanimously, but didn't get a hearing in the house. What will this new task force do, what do you think about its mission, and does it differ substantially to what you proposed earlier this year?
PINSKYWell, it's not a novel idea. I think the governor took it from myself and other colleagues who developed this. The only difference is in makeup of the panel, Kojo. I had all the stakeholders. I had environmentalists, I had solar industry, I had farmers, I had the Public Service Commission. If you look at the makeup of his commission, he has basically his agency chiefs, a farmer or two, and a solar representative or two.
PINSKYI think, unfortunately, it lacks the breadth of our recommendation. We need to have a plan, because we passed, this past legislative session, the Clean Energy Act, which says we have to have 50 percent clean energy by 2030, and 14 percent of it has to be solar.
PINSKYBattles are breaking out in every county in the state between the people who want solar, the farmers, the local governments, and we need to have a template, a plan, a map, if you will, where we ensure that we have the solar without tearing down forests or prime agricultural land. I think we really need a consensus stakeholder kind of approach, where we can achieve this.
NNAMDIHere's Greg in Hyattsville, Maryland, on the environment. Greg, your turn.
GREG SMITHThanks, Kojo. Hi, Paul, it's Greg Smith calling you. I'm one of your constituents. My question has to do with environmental review, and we can go into fiscal review. Transportation projects, specifically highway projects -- and this is relevant, given Governor Hogan's proposal to radically widen the Beltway and 270.
GREG SMITHWould you support, and do you think you could find any traction with the state requiring more rigorous use of the climate impacts, the comprehensive climate impacts, on these major transportation projects? And then the public health impact, especially from toxic air pollution generated by traffic.
NNAMDIHere's Paul Pinsky.
PINSKYWell, I think his proposal to widen the Washington Beltway, Route 270 of the Baltimore Parkway, is disaster. You know, we just heard from Paul Wiedefeld. The governor is withholding $56 million from the mass transit system, yet he wants to build more roads. And, at the same time, he says he's an environmentalist.
PINSKYWell, if you build more lanes, there'll be more cars and more emissions. It's a bad idea, and we're trying to slow it down in the legislature. I think we're making some progress. It's apparently turned into two phases. We should have more mass transit. That would solve a lot of this problem. He's killed the Redline in Baltimore. He hasn't tried to invest money in the MARC trains.
PINSKYAgain, we have to have a culture shift in mass transit. We should be more like New York City. We just can't put more and more lanes. And so I would favor any kind of review, environmental or health review, to try to slow down these efforts to assist the roadbuilders.
SHERWOODA couple of quick politics questions. One, some people are thinking of Senator Mike Miller, who has been senate president for -- since the turn of the century (unintelligible) --
PINSKYSince the beginning of time.
SHERWOODSince the beginning of time.
PINSKYOnly 37 years.
SHERWOODMay not run again. He's had some health issues, but he may not run again. But maybe you might run for state senate and the presidency, or are you supporting somebody else, other than yourself? What is that?
PINSKYWell, look --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Open those back doors and let us see what's happening.
PINSKYThe Senate president is battling cancer. It's no secret.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Yes, I'm aware of that.
PINSKYI hope he beats that. I hope he comes back. Look, we have had --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) If he doesn't.
PINSKYWe have ideological differences, but we have a great respect for each other. I think that conversation is premature.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) All right, but people -- as you know, the state senators are talking about it, because a state senator suggested --
PINSKYI understand --
SHERWOOD-- it to me that I ask.
PINSKYYeah, and that's fine. I just think it's premature. I serve as the chairman, I'm going to support Senate President Miller. If he steps aside, we can have that conversation.
NNAMDI(overlapping) Here's the other political question --
SHERWOODYou're a good friend.
NNAMDIBefore we go to Franchot, you're just a week from Labor Day weekend. You sponsored that bill to return control of academic calendars to local schools. The bill passed, Governor Hogan vetoed it. The General Assembly overruled his veto. Do you have any information on whether school districts are taking advantage of this new flexibility?
PINSKYUnfortunately, many jurisdictions had reset their calendar for this year when the bill passed, so I expect we'll see differences next year, Kojo. But it always bothered me that he put the interests of Ocean City small business owners ahead of the students and how long they should be in school. That should be a local issue.
PINSKYIf students in Baltimore City need an extra week or two weeks beyond June 15th, they should be able to have that date. But he essentially said, "I'm deciding. I want to have people go to Ocean City, even though these people can't afford Ocean City." It was terrible policy, it was led by Ocean City and, actually, the comptroller.
NNAMDIAh! On to Tom.
PINSKYIs that a segue? Is that a good segue?
NNAMDIOn to Tom's question.
NNAMDIHe was one of the major proponents of delaying the start of the school year until Labor Day, so here's, now, Tom's question.
SHERWOODMr. Franchot, the comptroller, has suggested he is seriously looking at running for governor for the 2022 cycle, which means he would be into the race early sometime next year, probably. What is your thought about that?
NNAMDIHe likes to talk about how many votes he got in the last election.
SHERWOODYeah, I was going to say, he does -- he gets more statewide votes than any other state official, virtually, and he seems very popular in the state of Maryland, but seems to be hated in Annapolis. And he says it's because he's not a good old boy, that he challenges the system, and that you guys in Annapolis are not doing right by the people. And I'm not -- so what do you think about him running for governor?
PINSKYWell, this gets back to Kojo's question: Ocean City, changing the calendar. That clearly was an issue of pandering. It was pandering by the current governor and by the comptroller. And I think we shouldn’t have people who choose to pander to get elected, and --
SHERWOODWell, if we don't have people who pander get elected, we'll have --
NNAMDIWe won't have any politicians.
SHERWOODWe can rent out Airbnb in all state capitals across the country.
PINSKYThere are some principled people in the world, and I think we have to look --
PINSKYLook, I know we have President Trump, and we have other people in his footsteps, but there are people who don't pander, are principled, and --
SHERWOOD(overlapping) Well, but pandering and promising is two different -- it's all in the eyes of the beholder. But, again, Peter Franchot, he would run for governor, he would clearly run against the establishment in Annapolis, which I think he would put you in that category.
PINSKYWell, he could (laugh) -- you know, ideologically, we're very different. He's very conservative. He's been close to the banks.
SHERWOODWho do you want to run?
SHERWOODI think we need someone who is going to enunciate a progressive vision for the state, social justice, economic justice and fairness for the working middle income people of our state. And I'm not sure who that'll be, but he sided with the banks, so, you know, I propose --
NNAMDI(overlapping) How about, uh, Paul Pinsky?
PINSKYNo, I have enough to do. I think raising money and glad-handing is not where I want to spend too much of my time.
SHERWOOD(overlapping) You've been in the legislature since '94, right?
NNAMDI(overlapping) Well, we've -- we're out of time, unfortunately.
SHERWOODYou've been in the legislature since '94; is that right?
PINSKYIn the Senate since '94.
SHERWOOD'94, then before that (unintelligible).
NNAMDIPaul Pinsky is a Maryland state senator representing district 22 in Prince Georges County. Paul Pinsky, always a pleasure.
PINSKYThank you, Kojo. Thank you, Tom.
NNAMDIToday's Politics Hour is produced by Mark Gunnery. Coming up on Monday, after a deadly fire in a home that was not approved for rentals, we explore safety regulations for rental properties in D.C., and what tenants should know about their rights.
NNAMDIPlus, incidence of hate crimes are high in Washington, though prosecutions for them have plummeted. We'll explore why. That all starts at noon, on Monday. Until then, I hope you all have a wonderful weekend. Any plans, Tom Sherwood?
SHERWOODChuck Bell at Channel Four says the weather's going to be great. I'm going to enjoy it.
NNAMDII'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
People 50 and older in the U.S. are living longer and divorcing at higher rates than previous generations. That means single baby boomers are navigating the dating world too. From…
Families at Fort Meade experienced serious health issues due to mold — now they're suing.
We speak to local Nigerians about identity and the recent travel ban implemented by the Trump administration.