In the latest front in the unions-against-taxpayers brawl, Washington's Metro is debating selling naming rights to its stations to slow its budget crisis. This measure is one of a list of options WMATA is considering, but it's definitely the most wacky.
Just consider this the latest, greatest example of flawed groupthink decision making.
In a study released this week WMATA shows a $72.5M budget gap, which it classifies as “need for jurisdictional contributions.” Any college kid who's ever had to ask for parental “contributions” come rent time knows that category well: It's lousy accounting. When parents keep bailing their baby out every month, Junior just keeps up that same lazy accounting.
WMATA is no different. When jurisdictions “contribute” every period that WMATA fails to make ends meet, our capital transportation authority will never learn. That WMATA would even propose station sponsorship shows just how deeply flawed their accounting is.
Station sponsorship would be a one-time bailout from private businesses. Gallery Place-Chinatown would probably become the Verizon-Gallery Place-Chinatown stop. It sounds a little like a chronic divorcee, and it behaves like one. Why can't we just commit to true principles, solid accounting, and honest service, and stop messing around heaping huge benefits to the WMATA labor union?
Why must WMATA defend cops behaving badly (watch the clip — Metro quickly deemed the cop's actions “warranted” and ceased their investigation), and address dangerous stations only after a crowd beat and taunted a man just last week?
WMATA has been as irresponsible in its budgeting as it's been in its service. Last year it solved its budget gap by transferring $30 million from preventative maintenance to the capital budget.
You read that right. Remember what I said about the kid whose parents keep bailing out his poor accounting decisions? The problem becomes chronic. Worse, this is the very same Metro system haunted by bad maintenance decision and a series of deadly (and sometimes just plain stupid) crashes.
But wait! It gets better. If Metro decides selling station naming rights is the wrong tack, there's always…keeping preventative maintenance at FY2010 levels. For $30M, WMATA might well forgo the preventative maintenance — read: brakes — that it didn't install last year. Because we all know how well that went in 2009.
Perhaps a better alternative is to address efficiency. Change the structure, and the incentives, and perhaps when people get paid for a job well done we'll see functioning escalators and brakes, instead of lengthy defensive discussions about how unions aren't the worst thing to happen to public works.