The sponsor of a bill that Maryland officials say would jeopardize federal money for a light-rail Purple Line by requiring one of the project’s bidders to pay Holocaust reparations said Tuesday he would not put the funding at risk.
“My goal is not to jeopardize the Purple Line,” said Del. Kirill Reznik (D-Montgomery). “I support the Purple Line and want to see it built.”
Reznik said he would change the legislation, if necessary, with the goal of keeping highly competitive federal transit funding while forcing the French rail company Société Nationale des Chemins de Fer Français (SNCF) to compensate Jews and other prisoners it deported to Nazi death camps during World War II.
Reznik was responding to statements made Monday by Maryland transportation officials, who said during a legislative hearing in Annapolis that the bill would jeopardize vital federal funding for the proposed 16-mile line between Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. Reznik’s bill would require any company with ties to Holocaust deportations to pay reparations before it or any of its affiliates could win a Purple Line contract.
SNCF owns 70 percent of the rail company Keolis North America, which is part of one of four private consortiums recently chosen to bid on a public-private partnership to design, build, operate, maintain and help finance a Purple Line. The partnership, valued at more than $6 billion, would be one of the largest government contracts ever in Maryland.
Maryland transportation officials said the bill would violate Federal Transit Administration procurement rules against imposing conditions on a single bidder.
“This would likely place federal funding for the Purple Line in jeopardy,” said Beth Nachreiner, an assistant secretary for the Maryland Department of Transportation. “The Purple Line cannot go forward without federal funding, and if this bill were to pass, the Purple Line possibly could not.”
Officials for SNCF agree with historians that the company deported 76,000 Jews and other prisoners to Nazi death camps. The French Holocaust reparations program covers French citizens deported on SNCF trains, but not Americans.
President Obama’s fiscal 2015 budget includes $100 million toward the Purple Line’s construction and a recommendation for a total federal commitment of $900 million.
James Knighton, the Maryland Transit Administration’s director of government affairs, told the legislative committee that a 2011 Maryland law targeting Keolis’s bid on a MARC commuter rail contract also would have violated federal procurement rules. However, he said, that contract went forward because the state was able to pay it all with state money. Keolis lost that contract to operate MARC’s Camden and Brunswick lines to a lower bidder.
Knighton said it would be impossible to separate state and federal funding on a Purple Line.
A hearing on the Senate version of the bill is scheduled for Thursday.