Friday, August 19, 2005

A 'Backdoor Scheme' to Fund Dulles Rail?

Steve Pearlstein of the Wash Post has written a fun column mocking Virginia's strategy for financing the extension of Metrorail to Dulles Intl Airport. Calling the $4 billion project "about the best investment of public dollars that you could imagine" because of the private investment it will attract, he goes on to ridicule the funding plans:

"In Fairfax and Loudoun, county officials have cleverly persuaded the owners of commercial property along the extension route to pay a 22 percent property tax surcharge that was supposed to cover the counties' entire 25 percent share of the project cost. Now that the cost for Phase I of the project has increased by 20 percent, or $300 million, officials are already planning to ask the commercial property owners for an increase in the surtax rather than suggest that general taxpayers invest even a dime of their expected windfall.

"The state of Virginia, meanwhile, plans to cover its share of the project costs by raising tolls on the Dulles Toll Road 25 cents now and another 25 cents later. Not only does that mean that the flinty taxpayers from Roanoke and Virginia Beach have once again picked the pocket of Northern Virginians, but there is also the delicious irony that the people least likely to use the new Metro are being forced to pay for the people who will.

"But wait -- it gets worse. A consortium of construction and engineering firms has come along with a proposal to hand the state a check for at least $1 billion -- the state share of the Metro project -- in return for a contract that would allow it to operate the Dulles Toll Road for the next 50 years and keep all the tolls. The group even promises to pay for improvements to access ramps and to add auxiliary lanes. Presented with what looks like a free lunch, some state officials are eager to chow down."


At 9:22 AM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

My back of the envelope calculation says $1 billion is easily 90 million too low, whether you think private enterprise should be in this busines or not.

At 8:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Let's see, the Dulles Toll Road is profitable, so let's have the State sell it to a syndicate of developers, engineering contractors and their consultants. Metrorail, on the other hand, is a big financial loser. It requires large tax subsidies each year that are growing, in part, because Metro itself is poorly managed. (Keep in mind that, by adding track mileage in Virginia, a larger share of Metro's entire operating budget also shifts from D.C and Maryland to Virginia.) These facts make a strong case, in the eyes of Virginia's elected officials to expand Metrorail to Dulles -- and beyond.
How do ordinary Virginians make sense of this situation? It's simple. Selling the Dulles Toll Road give the State money to pay for expanding Metrorail, which, in turn, permits the Tysons Corner landowners to obtain rezoning. Rezoning then permits these landowners, who are making big campaign contributions to elected officials, to make billions in windfall profits. See, it is in the public interest!


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