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Virginia Republicans support statewide appointees for Metro board

Updated, 5:30 p.m.
Democrats continue to hammer McDonnell on his decision to withhold $50 million for Metro unless the state gets two members on the agency's board of directors.

Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) said the state was "legally bound" to pay the $50 million and described McDonnell's actions as "budgetary blackmail." He said if ridership fees are calculated than Virginia is only paying a third, not a half of Virginia's portion of Metro's budget.

Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.) called McDonnell's actions a "raw power grab by Richmond bureaucrats." He said the state does not actually pay money directly to Metro, like Maryland does, but sends money collected in Northern Virginia from the gas tax. "This is a hostile act to Northern Virginia taxpayers. It's a reckless act,'' he said. "This is the same old story. Richmond insists on getting something for nothing."

But many of those same Democrats, including Moran and Connolly, supported the Obama administration's desire to put four federal appointees on the Metro board in exchange for $1.5 billion in federal funds earlier this year.

"If the federal government is going to be kicking in $150 million a year, it deserves voting representation on the board," Connolly said in January.

Connolly said in an interview today that his quote was taken "out of context" and that he only reluctantly supported allowing the federal appointees on the board. He said he would have preferred that they only serve 10 years -- the length of time that the federal money will be doled out to Metro.

Moran said he supported the federal appointees but only because they were part of the original deal. He said McDonnell's request came too late. "The state has already committed the money,'' he said. "The deal is made."

That is a similar argument made by Northern Virginia legislators.

"In my mind, this would be Virginia reneging on a promise to the region and to the Congress," Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple (D-Arlington) said. "When Virginia agreed to this money, there were no strings. There was no quid pro quo."

Original post:
The author of the federal law establishing a first-ever dedicated fund for Metro is defending Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell's hardball play to get two state seats on the transit agency's board of directors.

Former Rep. Tom Davis, who represented Fairfax and Prince William counties until his retirement last year, said his fellow Republican is right to withhold Virginia's $50 million match until he gets what he wants.

"The mayor [of the District] has a vote," on the Metro board, Davis said. "Why shouldn't Virginia have the same?"

McDonnell is pushing to take two of the four Northern Virginia seats away from Fairfax and Arlington counties, Alexandria and Falls Church, which currently appoint them. The governor wants more accountability from the all-Democrat Metro board, especially for safety improvements in the wake of the June 22 fatal Red Line crash.

If Virginia matches the federal pot -- $150 million a year for the next 10 years -- the state would, on top of other money, exceed what the local governments contribute each year to Metro, Transportation Secretary Sean T. Connaughton says. The law requires the District, Maryland and Virginia to match the federal contribution.

Metro officials are, needless to say, not happy that the federal money they worked with Davis for years to get is now in jeopardy over a governance issue they say should be kept separate.

But Davis said that right now, the Republican governor has no voice on the Metro board or the board of the regional airports authority, which is overseeing the Metrorail extension under construction to Dulles International Airport.

"Bob is left managing the largest transportation project in the state, with no appointees on either body," said Davis, director of federal government services for Deloitte.
Other Republicans are siding with the governor.

Del. Joe T. May (R-Loudoun), who serves as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee's transportation subcommittee, also supportS the idea. He denied that politics had anything to do with the decision.

"There is really no accountability,'' May said. "We send the money up here but we don't have a say in how it is spent."

Lisa Rein and Anita Kumar

By Anita Kumar  |  June 17, 2010; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  Anita Kumar , General Assembly 2010 , Gerald E. Connolly , House of Delegates , James P. Moran Jr. , Robert F. McDonnell  
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Comments

If Metro seemed to be running well this wouldn't be an issue.

How come Gov O'Malley isn't stepping up an demanding more control too? The darn accident was in his state.

Posted by: RedBird27 | June 17, 2010 2:37 PM | Report abuse

Tom Davis is right. The Md. Governor and D.C. Mayor already get to appoint some of the WMATA Board members from their jursdictions. This proposal would simply give the Va. Governor the same type of authority -- which makes sense.

Va. contributes to Metro, but currently has no voice on the Board. Appointees from the Va. Governor will have a broader regional perspective than officials elected from small districts. And they will be accountable to ALL the voters of Northern Virginia.

The current Va. reps on the WMATA Board (Zimmerman and Hudgins) have been part of the problem. They have failed to address Metro's myriad problems (safety, finance, management); they wanted to keep Catoe as GM (despite his disastrous tenure); and they blocked efforts to reduce costs in this year's budget.

A new Board member appointed by the Va. Governor will be a big improvement. And Metro desperately needs new leadership.

Posted by: jrmil | June 17, 2010 3:51 PM | Report abuse

Replace Zimmerman. His track record is terrible. Fill his seat with someone from the state level for whom rail is not just a side-hobby/ego stroke.

Posted by: ghokee | June 18, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

Richmond deserves nothing. All the money that goes into funding VA's portion of Metro comes from the areas that get Metro service in the form of a 2% gas tax. Stacking the board with people who don't even live within Metro's footprint is stupid.

Posted by: NikolasM | June 18, 2010 12:21 PM | Report abuse

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