Next Stop: The White Elephant’s Graveyard
By: Michael R. Shannon
Virginia just avoided a state–sized version of the popular “government shutdown” crisis. Democrats had twice defeated the budget in Senate votes and it looked like the usual hostages — children, teachers, social workers, grief counselors, underwater mortgage holders, illegals, addicts, the lame, the halt and the blind — were going to be bussed in to Richmond and threatened with self–sufficiency until stingy Republicans came up with a few more billions.
Then it all went away, like an Obama campaign promise, when a single Democrat senator broke ranks and voted ‘yes.’ (So far there are no media reports that praise him for “growing in office.”)
The ostensible reason for the “shutdown” crisis was the potential demise of Phase II of the planned $6 billion railroad to Dulles Airport that would connect with the existing Washington Metro.
There’s something about spending billions on 19thCentury transportation solutions that liberals find irresistible. Frankly, I’m fearful that one of our local politicians, famous for his support of a commuter ferry on the Potomac, will learn the steamboat has been invented.
Senate Democrats claimed Dulles rail was threatened by Republican’s refusal to pony up an additional $300 million to subsidize drivers on the Dulles Airport Toll Road, which voters were promised would cover 75 percent of the construction cost of the Silver Line.
This is classic Democrat economics: Use money raised by selling long–term bonds to subsidize a recurring expense. Talk about your fiscal treadmill. Without subsidizing tolls, railroaders fear the cost will be so high that drivers will use nearby free roads. Effectively converting the toll lanes into a long, narrow asphalt preserve for Northern Virginia’s growing deer population and Obama’s golfing motorcades.
In the absence of taxpayer–funded bond money, the cost of a roundtrip toll next year will range between $4.50 and $9.00. By 2018 it is projected to be $13.50. And just thinking about using the toll road will deduct $2.00 from your E–Zpass account.
Naturally this is what you get when a Democrat governor goes legacy shopping. Former Gov. Tim Kaine (D–Flomax) concluded that closing all the rest stops in Virginia might get him in the history books, but not in the way he preferred. Instead, like Ezekiel in the Valley of Dry Bones, Kaine took a moribund plan for a railroad to Dulles and breathed life into it by turning the project over to the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA); an inspired choice for a multi–year, multi–billion–dollar operation.
Board appointees made by liberals in D.C. and Maryland vastly outnumber Virginia appointees. Consequently the carpetbaggers are more than happy to spend Virginia dollars for which they will never be held accountable.
While Dulles rail is sold to taxpayers as a mass transit project, the airport board uses it to reward cronies and amass chits for the next election (see: Government Motors bailout). This was done by tying construction contractors and sub–contractors to what is called a “project labor agreement” (PLA).
This means that during Phase I of the project all contractors and subcontractors “voluntarily” agreed to pay union wages, hire union workers and follow union work rules, in spite of the fact Virginia is a right to work state where union membership cannot be required as a condition of employment.
So Kaine gets his legacy project and unions — that supply free labor and millions of dollars in campaign contributions to Democrat candidates — don’t have to worry about bid competition from non–union firms.
One administration later, what’s “voluntary” under Democrat Kaine must be mandatory under Republican Bob McDonnell. So for Phase II the airport authority votes to require mandatory PLA compliance before bidding. And it just so happens that one of the board members voting ‘yes’ was Dennis Martire who is also Vice President of the Laborers’ International Union.
When you consider that in 1978 the Laborer’s union was termed “completely dominated…[by] organized crime” in a Dept. of Justice report and as recently as 2011 the mob still had links, it’s not surprising that Martire did not believe he had a conflict of interest when he voted ‘yes.’
Since only 4 percent of Virginia construction workers are unionized, the bulk of the Phase II hires would be residents of Maryland and DC, which is just fine with MWAA members, since it will improve their chances for carpooling to board meetings.
Taxpayers will be hit for an estimated $350 million to $750 million in increased costs that a PLA imposes on a project. Del. Bob Marshall (R–13th) recognizing the threat, introduced legislation prohibiting state money from being spent on any project requiring a PLA.
In response the board removed the requirement for a PLA, but in turn said it would rank contractors “voluntarily” agreeing to a PLA higher than those contractors that did not — a distinction without a difference.
The board believes it can get away with this obstinacy because the project is half complete and if the second phase founders the GOP–controlled General Assembly will be blamed. While the truth is the project was brought to the brink by a board that puts more emphasis on political payoffs than it does on completing a mass transit project.
Now that no additional funding will be forthcoming from the state, the financing package for Phase II of the Silver Line may well fall apart. But if that happens it won’t be because Republicans refused to pay a union–inspired ransom. The death certificate will read the project died of self–inflicted wounds.
Michael R. Shannon is a public relations and advertising consultant with corporate, government and political experience around the globe. He is a dynamic and entertaining keynote speaker. He can be reached at email@example.com.