Recently much press coverage has been devoted to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority's Dulles Rail Phase 2 project. The situation blew up recently when MWAA's allies, at the eleventh hour, requested an additional $300 million from the commonwealth of Virginia. This request almost scuttled Virginia's two-year budget for schools, police, fire and other essential services. That incident was quickly followed up by a scathing audit of MWAA's board, whose revelations provide ample grounds on their own for withholding additional commitments from the taxpayers.
Unfortunately, it is difficult to make informed decisions regarding "Rail to Dulles" due to the misinformation spread by the MWAA board and its supporters. Thus, it needs to be explicitly stated why this MWAA "megaproject" has become the source of such controversy and the reasons for not providing it an additional $300 million from Virginia taxpayers.
In 2006, Democratic Gov. Tim Kaine transferred Virginia's Dulles Toll Road, valued at $3.52 billion, to MWAA, with Virginia receiving nothing in return. With DTR almost completely paid for, MWAA became the beneficiary of this cash cow with revenues estimated to generate more than $4.4 billion over the next 15 years.
In 2006, Virginia's House of Delegates attempted to prohibit the transfer of any Virginia infrastructure to any public-private entity without prior legislative authorization by the General Assembly. Unfortunately, the legislation died in Virginia's Senate. The result is that the commonwealth is now unable to cap potentially exorbitant tolls on a road paid for and maintained by Virginia taxpayers.
So who is this MWAA board that will decide how much Virginians must pay to drive on a road they've already paid for? It has 13 unelected members, five of whom are appointed by the governor of Virginia. The remaining eight members, appointed by Maryland, the District of Columbia and the president, have little relationship to our Virginia airports. In fact, one MWAA board member voted while under house arrest on another continent. Clearly, the majority of this MWAA board does not have Virginia as its primary interest.
Virginia is a right-to-work state. Yet because of MWAA board members' close ties to national unions, the board is promoting union preferences that will preclude the hiring of almost any Virginia company. These jobs will go to companies in Maryland, Pennsylvania and elsewhere. MWAA's latest attempt would give a 10 percent scoring advantage to union companies bidding for contracts. This preference is tantamount to letting the Redskins start every series on the 45-yard line. There should be a level playing field between union and nonunion companies. Unfortunately, MWAA does not believe this to be so.
MWAA is a poorly run board whose decisions are often hidden from the public behind closed doors. For months, MWAA publicly contended Dulles Rail Phase 1 was on time and on budget, yet it just announced that Phase 1 was actually $150 million over budget. MWAA's actions necessitated a federal inspector general audit, whose findings, released May 15, revealed a largely unaccountable board that spends its money on no-bid contracts and expensive dinners in Hawaii. It also found MWAA had spent $100,000 on a law firm where the wife of a board member works -- to help the board avoid complying with federal law and from seating two additional board members appointed by Virginia's governor.
The Virginia Department of Transportation has analyzed MWAA's financing of the project and has proposed a debt restructuring solution that would help reduce Dulles tolls by utilizing a projected $5.4 billion in surplus toll revenues. Thus, the requested $300 million, for which Senate Democrats briefly held Virginia's budget hostage, is totally unnecessary. MWAA is projected to have a $5 billion surplus -- it does not need any additional taxpayer money, especially considering its poor handling of money to date.
Rail to Dulles can be built, but it must be done in a fiscally responsible way that benefits Virginia's companies and taxpayers.
It's about time to shed some light on MWAA's actions and make it accountable to Virginia.
Tim Hugo, a Republican representing the 40th District in the Virginia House of Delegates, serves as chairman of its Majority Caucus.