House Democrats: Virginia’s seaport too important for shotgun sale
House Democrats today criticized Gov. Bob McDonnell’s hurried quest to overhaul operations at the Port of Virginia. Comparing the proposed port deals to the failed efforts to privatize the ABC operations and the governor’s recent efforts to impose tolls on the Midtown Tunnel and I-95, Democratic Leader David J. Toscano and Caucus Chair Mark Sickles today called on the governor and Secretary of Transportation Sean T. Connaughton to slow down the process and allow for greater public input and transparency.
“The economic success of the Port of Virginia is critically important to the Commonwealth of Virginia and many businesses in Hampton Roads and throughout the state who rely on it,” said Toscano, D-Charlottesville. “Our concern is that the Governor, in an effort to provide a quick influx of funds to substitute for his inability to have a genuine transportation funding plan, will make a bad business decision that could shortchange the taxpayers of the Commonwealth.”
Just last year, the governor replaced 10 of the port authority’s 11 citizen board members. In a break from all previous PPTAs, Toscano also pointed out the Governor’s Executive Order gives final decision-making authority to the Transportation Secretary, thus usurping the Port Authority’s Board of Commissioners. It is estimated that the annual economic impact of port operations is about $41 billion and 343,000 jobs.
“While you can’t have 140 cooks in the kitchen, these PPTA deals need to be vetted by experts, and the Commonwealth should, at a minimum, employ a tested, national investment banker to make sure Virginia’s star asset is not given away, or undervalued, over the exceedingly long time period being discussed in this deal,” said Del. Matthew James, D-Portsmouth. “My constituents know the consequences of a poorly designed deal, the financial aspects of which are all patched together out of the public view.”
“Our customers here and across America’s heartland rely on our port to facilitate U.S. exports to markets all over the world,” said Sickles. “Unfortunately, we are seeing yet another grand legacy-seeking, steam roller campaign from the Governor’s office. While there is no perfect model for running a quasi-governmental enterprise like a public port, Virginia’s current model has been way too successful to make wholesale changes based on data from the worst recession in my life. There is always room for improvement, but the scope of these proposals call for exceeding care.”
“From ABC privatization, to tunnel toll collection years before the tunnel is finished, to $4 and $12 tolls on cars and trucks on I-95 creating havoc on small businesses and taxpayers in a struggling Southside region, there is a growing backlash ” said Toscano. “Now, the governor is attempting to negotiate a 48-year concession involving billions of dollars with little public input, and perhaps even cede control of the port to a single foreign entity. In another effort to provide quick fixes, the Governor’s tolling and privatization schemes are no substitute for a genuine transportation funding and long term investment plan.”