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Bill to add state seat to VRE board fails-for now


RICHMOND—By a single vote, the state Senate on Tuesday voted down a bill to give the state a weighted vote on the Virginia Railway Express board.

But the bill’s demise could be temporary, said Sen. Richard Stuart, R–Stafford, the bill’s sponsor.

The VRE Operations Board is made up of officials from Fredericksburg, Stafford, Spotsylvania, Prince William, Fairfax and Arlington and one state member, from the Department of Rail and Public Transportation.

Stuart’s bill would give the chairman of the Commonwealth Transportation Board, or a designee, a spot on the VRE board. The new state representative’s vote would be weighted, depending on how much state money goes to VRE in a given year.

“The fact that we give $25 million a year to this board, I think it’s incumbent upon us to make sure that money is managed well,” Stuart told the Senate on Tuesday. “It’s not a power grab, it’s not intended to [harm] them in any way.”

The VRE board opposes Stuart’s bill; when the bill was in a committee earlier in the session, VRE spokesman Mark Roeber said giving the state more control over the commuter rail service “changes the whole dynamic of the relationship” and opens the door to state control of other Virginia transit organizations.

Stuart said Tuesday that VRE will never like the bill, and has hired a lobbyist to work against it in the General Assembly.

Opponents of Stuart’s bill said that giving more weight to the state’s vote could affect VRE’s bonding and other agreements, although Stuart said that wasn’t the case. The regional authorities that founded VRE are responsible for repaying bonds used to purchase equipment and build stations.

Others were concerned about setting a precedent for state influence on transit boards.

“The problem with this weighted vote situation, there’s a very delicate balance that exists there now,” said Sen. Dave Marsden, D–Fairfax. “To have the state come in and put their thumb on the scales  could be very disruptive. It’s something we need to think about very carefully.”

The state puts money into a lot of boards and commissions, Marsden said, yet doesn’t have a greater vote on those bodies than other members.

But it should, said Sen. Chap Petersen, D–Fairfax, at least in cases like VRE where localities want long-term state support.

“We want the state to make a long-term commitment and in order to make that commitment they need to have a say in the corporate governance,” Petersen said.

Sen. John Watkins, R–Powhatan, said Stuart’s bill is “a little premature,” and that the VRE board should have been given a chance to change its master agreement and notify bondholders of the potential change.

In the end the Senate voted it down, 20–19.

“I hope that this bill may be reconsidered,” Stuart said afterward.

Senate rules allow senators to reconsider votes on bills, if someone who voted against it agrees to bring it back up.

A House version of the bill received a tied vote in a House subcommittee, but could still be taken up by the full committee.

Chelyen Davis:  804/343-2245