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Updated: McDonnell welcomes proposed state seats on Metro board; Moran, Connolly are opposed

By Anita Kumar
Anita Kumar

Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell Wednesday applauded the results of a new report that recommends Virginia, Maryland and the District be given greater oversight of Metro and seats on its board of directors.

"We believe the current governance structure has contributed to a decline in Metro's performance and safety record,'' McDonnell said in a statement. "The findings of the Task Force are in agreement and support increased Virginia representation on the Board, as well as improved accountability and organization, as integral to improving the system."

McDonnell (R) has long advocated for two state seats on Metro's board of directors, but has been thwarted by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, which has wanted local officials to maintain control.

Updated, 4:45 p.m. Northern Virginia Democratic Reps. Jim Moran and Gerry Connolly issued a joint statement opposing state representation on the board.

"We are concerned that changes in the WMATA board structure could dilute local representation on the WMATA board,'' they wrote. "Since more than 70 percent of Virginia's contribution to WMATA comes from Northern Virginia taxpayers, Virginia's representation on the board should reflect this important funding reality."

McDonnell spokesman Tucker Martin responded: "There is no justification for the position of the two congressmen other than simple, petty partisanship. Apparently the two put politics ahead of an improved Metro system. This is a perfect example of the kind of misplaced priorities voters just demonstrated they are sick and tired of witnessing."

Earlier Wednesday, a joint task force determined that Metro's governance structure is outdated, lacks accountability and has "contributed to its decline."

The task force of the Greater Washington Board of Trade and Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments issued a 35-page assessment that calls for "dramatic changes" to how Metro is run that included a recommendation on its governance structure. Read more about the report on the Dr. Gridlock blog.

The 18-member task force, composed of business and political leaders from the region, recommended that Virginia, Maryland and the District change the Metro agreement to increase the number of members from two to three for each jurisdiction, with one member appointed by the chief executive of each jurisdiction.

"I look forward to working with Governor O'Malley, Mayor Fenty, Mayor-elect Gray, the WMATA board and all Metro stakeholders to implement the report's recommendations as quickly as possible," McDonnell said. "These recommendations will help improve Metro's operations and better ensure that our citizens can enjoy the benefits of Metro safely."

This summer, McDonnell threatened to withhold Virginia's contribution to a $3 billion federal funding plan for Metro's capital needs unless the state received two of Northern Virginia's four seats on the agency's board.

The federal government agreed to give Metro $1.5 billion for capital needs over 10 years but required that Virginia, Maryland and the District match the money. Virginia eventually paid its share.

By Anita Kumar  | November 17, 2010; 3:39 PM ET
Categories:  Anita Kumar, Robert F. McDonnell  
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Comments

It seems that every time someone disagrees with a policy advanced by Governor McDonnell, his spokesman Tucker Martin automatically accuses them of being partisan.

Martin did it last week when Ward Armstrong dared to question McDonnell's decision to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for another study on privatizing Virginia's ABC stores after the governor's previous proposals were deemed dead on arrival by both Republicans and Democrats in the General Assembly.

Now the governor's flack has done it again, accusing Congressmen Moran and Connolly of "petty partisanship" because they are defending local governments and local taxpayers in Northern Virginia, who actually foot most of Virginia's bill for operating the Metro system. Moran and Connolly apparently want to make sure local officials and local taxpayers have a say in how their tax dollars are spent on Metro.

What's partisan about that? There is nothing that prescribes that the local officials with seats on the Metro board be Republicans or Democrats. In fact, partisan politics has never played a role in Metro governance, except, one can presume, in Tucker Martin's alternate reality.

Martin also conveniently sidesteps the fact that in Maryland, the state government foots most of the bill for Metro, while in Virginia, it is the local taxpayers paying the freight.

The only one injecting partisanship into this policy issue is Tucker Martin. More than a year after Governor McDonnell's election, Tucker Martin remains the proverbial political hack, hampered by a limited vocabulary.

Posted by: spatrickbe | November 17, 2010 8:38 PM | Report abuse

The last thing Metro needs is a couple of politicians from Richmond to help them. McDonnell doesn't give a twit about Metro, but can't pass up a chance to 'screw' the NoVa taxpayers again.

Posted by: kinsman_bob | November 17, 2010 11:15 PM | Report abuse

These recommendations from the blue-ribbon task force are good common-sense reforms. And they are desperately needed. The current Metro Board has been a spectacular failure in recent years, contributing to the rapid decline of Metro rail and bus transit service.

Gov. McDonnell has been trying to make Metro Directors from Virginia more accountable and responsive. Unfortunately, the self-serving local politicians in N.Va., who control Virginia's seats, have been blocking the Governor's reform plan.

And it's disappointing (but not surprising) to see the knee-jerk partisan responses from Cong. Moran and Connolly. They seem far more concerned with defending the Metro seats for their political allies (Chris Zimmerman of Arlington, Cathy Hudgins of Fairfax) than in improving transit service for the region.

Fortunately, there are political leaders in the region (from both parties) who take a broader view. Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (D) supports the reform recommendations. And the task force co-chairman was D.C. Council Chair-elect Kwame Brown (D).

Let's hope they can help to rally public opinion to force changes in the Metro Board -- and to overcome the narrow partisan opposition from local politicos in Northern Va. This is a critical first step to restoring safe and reliable transit service for the entire D.C. metro area.

Posted by: jrmil | November 18, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse

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