A new report from George Mason University finds that the economy in the D.C. region is suffering from federal government cuts, lowering average incomes and reducing riders on mass transit.
The study finds the federal government has cut 17,000 jobs in the last few years. It also finds that every jurisdiction, except the District of Columbia, has seen median incomes drop since 2009. Median incomes have dropped $7,293 in Loudoun County, $4,552 in Montgomery County, $4,060 in Prince George’s County and $5,856 in Frederick County. In Fairfax County, median incomes have dropped $249.
“The federal government is declining. It’s spending less. Will it come soaring back? I think probably not. The federal government may just end up having to play a much smaller role in our regional economy,” says study author Dr. Terry Clower at the GMU Center for Regional Analysis.
Lawmakers from Fairfax County to Montgomery County are feeling the effects of sequestration and deep cuts in defense spending.
“It also translates into ridership problems on Metro. You don’t have as many people reporting for work because there aren’t as many federal jobs as before,” says Bulova.
“We need to diversify our economy so that we are not as dependent on the federal government as we have been in the past,” she adds.
Montgomery County Council member Roger Berliner tells WTOP that the region must reinvent their economy and depend much more on the private sector to create jobs than before.
Numbers released earlier this week from the American Public Transportation Association show the same effect as the George Mason study. APTA found that transit ridership is up nationwide, but down in the D.C.-metro region where federal workers make up a significant portion of the VRE, MARC and WMATA ridership.
Complicating the matter are the transit benefits. The federal government offered $250 per month tax-free to workers for mass transit. In 2013, Congress cut it almost in half to about $130. It was briefly restored in December, but once again is lower than the parking benefit.
Organizations like AAA Mid-Atlantic, the Coalition for Smarter Growth and the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission all agree Congress must restore the benefits because they feel it has caused more people to get back into their cars. The concern is that traffic on interstates like 66, 270, 95 and the Capital Beltway will continue to get worse until the transit benefits are restored to the full amount.
“One of the first things we can do to improve things today and ready the region for a prosperous future is to invest in our infrastructure. And one immediate and logical thing we can do is to bring the transit benefit back up in parity,” says Falls Church Vice Mayor and NVTC member Dave Snyder.
The biggest challenge is to find the money to fund infrastructure and support Metro when incomes are down and local governments are getting less money in local taxes because of it.
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