LaHood to lead independent review of Metro
by Amanda Iacone, WTOP.com
WASHINGTON — Virginia has tasked former U.S. Transportation Sec. Ray LaHood to conduct a "top-to-bottom" and independent review of Metro in order to create a road map for the transit agency's future.
Gov. Terry McAuliffe said during WTOP's "Ask the Governor" program Thursday that he hopes to have LaHood's recommendations by the end of the year. He said he needs a plan for Metro before he could advocate for sending more tax money to the struggling system. Such a review is also needed to convince Congress to reauthorize federal funding for the agency.
It could also help restore riders' confidence in the system, McAullife said — a tall order amid ongoing rebuilding work that takes entire stretches of track out of service for weeks at a time and ahead of fare increases that kick in this summer.
"I can't go back to my legislature when we don't even know what the costs structure is, what they need more money for," McAuliffe said of Metro. "We need to move forward. Enough talk. We will act on the recommendations that come back to us."
McAuliffe said he wants answers about labor costs, management structure and governance. He hopes LaHood's review can clarify what he described as conflicting information.
"How do we compare to the system in New York? How do we compare to Philly? How do we compare to Chicago? That's what I'd like to know," he said.
LaHood, a Republican from Illinois, spent 14 years in Congress. And during his four-year tenure as transportation secretary, he helped mediate fights over labor costs and the design of the Silver Line expansion to Dulles International Airport that nearly derailed the project.
McAuliffe said his administration carefully considered who to ask and LaHood was their top choice.
Virginia is prepared to cover the estimated $500,000 to $1 million pricetage for the study, but has asked Maryland and D.C. to contribute, the governor said.
“This is the first we’re hearing of the proposal, but we will review it and it would be encouraging if it includes a commitment by all jurisdictions to pass a dedicated source of revenue in 2018," he said in a statement.
Gov. Larry Hogan spoke with McAuliffe on Wednesday and supports the independent review, according to Hogan's office.
Health care reform
Ahead of an expected House vote on a Republican health care plan, McAuliffe said the bill would wreck havoc on Virginia's economy and budget.
"It's nothing short of disastrous," he said of the proposal.
Because of the bill's block grant structure for Medicaid, a health care program paid for jointly by the states and federal government, Virginia would see its costs increase by more than $700 million from 2020 to 2026.
"We're already a lean state. There is no room for us to cut," he said of Virginia's Medicaid program.
Income thresholds in Virginia are restrictive. In some parts of the state, a woman with two children must make less than $6,700 a year to qualify for the health assistance.
About 1 million of the state's residents are covered by the program. But two-thirds of the state's costs cover care for elderly and disabled Virginians, including long-term nursing homes.
He also questioned how the House could vote on the plan without knowing the costs of amendments that have been added in recent days as sweeteners to convince Republican lawmakers to support the plan.
Budget cuts: The Chesapeake Bay and the Coast Guard
McAuliffe called plans to cut the Coast Guard budget by $1.3 billion included in President Donald Trump's budget "insane." He said the move would hurt jobs in the shipbuilding industry and would also pose a security risk.
"He wants to take this money and build a wall. They're just going to build a bigger ladder or do a deeper tunnel. Are you kidding me? He's threatening the national security of our nation."
The cuts would also eliminate funding for a new cutter currently in production in Mississippi and a counterterrorism team.
Among its many duties, the Coast Guard also patrols the Chesapeake Bay, which would also be hurt by Trump's proposed budget cuts, McAuliffe said.
The loss of $73 million that supports the clean up of the bay would make it hard to meet certain clean water milestones by 2025. If the health of the bay, which has slowly improved, flounders it could cost jobs in the fishing industry and tourism, McAuliffe said.
After the governor's mansion
McAuliffe said he's not considering a run for president after his term as governor wraps up in January. Instead, he intends to turn his political capital to lead an effort to end partisan redistricting, the political process of drawing new legislative lines after each Census.
Opponents of the highly political process argue the technical abilities of modern computer mapping make it easier than ever for officeholders to cherry-pick the voters in their districts, allowing incumbents to more easily win re-election, increasing partisanship and ultimately leading to fewer choices at the ballot box.
"This gerrymandering has destroyed democracy in our country," McAuliffe said. "Nobody works together. It pushes people to extremes. And I really want to lead an effort to end it in this country."
Former Gov. Bob McDonnell convened a nonpartisan commission during the state's 2011 redistricting. But its work was not legally binding and was largely ignored by legislators. The adopted maps resulted in a series of legal challenges. A federal court ended up redrawing several congressional districts in Hampton Roads and Central Virginia. Another case focusing on House of Delegates districts continues to work through the courts.
McAuliffe, who is barred by term limits from seeking another term as governor, said he would work former President Barack Obama and other leaders.