Gov. Bob McDonnell pledged Thursday to appoint a Northern Virginia resident to the Metro Board of Directors — a day after receiving the long-sought authority to appoint a member to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority Board.
“I want to make sure we have someone who’s directly accountable to this administration and to our legislature for the money that we sent down,’’ McDonnell told reporters. “I think now, in exchange for the $50 million that we send from Richmond, that we have at least one seat at the table. It’s not about control. It’s about accountability and improving Metro, and I think this will.”
McDonnell (R) had been seeking at least one seat on the board for months but had been thwarted several times by local officials in Northern Virginia, primarily Democrats, who opposed the effort. Late Wednesday night, the General Assembly unexpectedly voted for an amendment to the state’s two-year, $78 billion budget that would give him a seat.
The Senate voted 21 to 19, with three Democrats — Northern Virginia Sens. Chap Petersen, Chuck Colgan and Toddy Puller — voting with all Republicans. The House voted 62 to 34.
“Three of northern Virginia’s senators let us all down,” said Vasiliy Kisunko, transportation organizer for the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club. “Our local, experienced and accountable elected officials will lose one seat and be replaced by an unaccountable, appointed official from downstate.”
The budget amendment will force the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, which is comprised of 19 local and state elected officials plus the state’s public transportation director, to give the state one of its seats.
“It’s just common sense,’’ McDonnell said. “Virginia is one of the four major stakeholders . ... They all have their own representatives in exchange for the money that they pay. ... I think the legislators realized if we’re going to spend that kind of money and, looking at the unacceptable safety record of Metro over the last couple years, that we needed to at least have a Virginia voice at the table.”
Last 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.
“Year after year, Northern Virginians have paid over 70 percent of Virginia’s share of Metro’s operating costs, through their fares, parking fees, property taxes and an extra gas tax not paid in other parts of the state. Meanwhile, the state of Virginia has never provided enough capital and operating support for transit,” said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth. “Paying the $50 million match for one year so far – that alone doesn’t add up to enough to merit a seat.
In November, a task force of the Greater Washington Board of Trade and Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments recommended that Virginia, Maryland and the District change the Metro agreement to increase the number of members from each jurisdiction from two to three, with one member appointed by the chief executive of each jurisdiction. Both Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) and D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray (D) have backed McDonnell’s effort.
During Virginia’s legislative session, lawmakers killed a bill introduced by Del. James LeMunyon (R-Fairfax) that would have allowed the governor to appoint an additional member to the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, who would then sit on the Metro Board. House negotiators had tried to put a provision in the budget that would give Virginia’s governor the power to appoint a board member, but their Senate counterparts balked.
“Metro is a $2 billion a year transportation enterprise and a cornerstone of our transportation system in the Northern Virginia area. Recent concerns related to safety, costs rising faster than ridership, and proposals for reduction in service indicate that Metro needs significant improvements in its management and direction,’’ LeMunyon said after Wednesday’s vote.