Greater Greater Washington

Breakfast links: Deeply divided


Photo by wfyurasko on Flickr.
Virginia Senate divided over Silver Line: Virginia Democrats defeated Governor McDonnell's budget in a party-line vote after the governor refused to provide any money for the Silver Line. Senator Chuck Colgan (D-Manassas) had initially sided with Republicans, but switched sides. (Examiner)

Maryland divided over special session: Maryland's legislature adjourned with no budget, which may mean deep cuts that could hurt counties' credit ratings. State leaders disagree over whether to call a special session to pass a new budget. (Baltimore Sun)

Council vs. mayor: The DC Council turned down Mayor Gray's proposals to spend DC's current fiscal year budget surplus. Kwame Brown and Gray have also increasingly sparred verbally as a rift between them grows. (Post)

LivingSocial gets LivingSocial-type deal on taxes: Mayor Gray wants to give LivingSocial a tax break worth up to $32.5 million, in an effort to keep the company in the city. As part of the deal, half of new hires must live in DC. (Post)

Buses down: WMATA is taking all 94 of its Orion VI buses out of service after two caught fire. Along with 47 New Flyer Xcelsior buses pulled for an electrical problem, nearly 10% of Metro's bus fleet is unavailable. (TBD)

Taller building gets OK: Alexandria approved a plan for a 10-story residential building near the Braddock Road Metro. The building gets to be taller than otherwise because it will include affordable units. (Patch)

Kids allowed to walk to school: Some Fairfax County schools used to prohibit students from walking or biking to school, but after outcry from parents and advocates, parents can now decide how their children get to school. (Safe Routes Partnership)

Fix DC elections: DC should provide public funding for campaigns and replace the current party primary system with a nonpartisan runoff between the top 2 finishers, suggests Chuck Thies. (NBC Washington)

Peck wrongly sent packing?: Some say Bob Peck, the recently-ousted head of GSA's Public Buildings Service, was unfairly made a scapegoat after the recent scandal. He has done a lot to save taxpayers money in much bigger ways, like getting government agencies to save space and energy. (Post)

And...: Arena Stage architect Bing Thom will design the new Woodridge Library. (City Paper) ... O Street is coming back. (In Shaw) ... The ICC is loud. (Examiner)

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Steven Yates grew up in Indiana before moving to DC in 2002 to attend college at American University. He currently lives in Southwest DC.  

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Are there sound barriers along the ICC in the areas with noise complaints? I'm slow this morning and can't figure out if they want additional dampening barriers or if there are only young trees in the areas.

by selxic on Apr 18, 2012 8:53 am • linkreport

The Phase 2 funding picture is complicated.

My scorecard:

150M from Virginia (part of the LaHood deal)
300M from virginia (added in March by Fairfax Democrats)
330M from Fairfax
260M from Loudoun County (disputed because of labor provisions)
???? from MWAA
??? from Feds

by charlie on Apr 18, 2012 8:53 am • linkreport

Defunding the state contribution to the Silver Line is basically McDonnell sending a message to Northern Virginia from "The Real Virginia" as John McCain would have said. We could so use a a new state comprising D.C., Arlington, Fairfax, Alexandria City, Montgomery, and Prince George's counties.

Tell the "Real Virginians" to siphon their money off of the Tidewater area from now on.

by Joshua T. on Apr 18, 2012 8:56 am • linkreport

What happened to Bob Peck and Martha Johnson is an example of why it's hard to attract and keep good people in public service. If you're trying to make change at an organization at the scale they were trying to, a) you're going to tick people off who will do whatever possible to subvert, and b) you're not going to be checking all the administrative things that, in a less politically charged atmosphere, will inevitably trip you up if you don't catch them.

If you get someone who's totally focused on avoiding administrative problems -- employee behavior, leave-taking, food buying, travel, car use, etc. -- there's little left over for the big picture stuff.

by jnb on Apr 18, 2012 9:00 am • linkreport

also, I thought it was really brave and admirable of Harriet Tregoning to comment on Bob Peck's situation in the Washington Business Journal readers speak out poll. It takes a lot of cohones for a public official to make the reasoned points that she did when readers want blood, and it made me respect her more.

Also, I thought that Doug Fruehling's column showed a) he hadn't heard what what Harriet was saying; and b) that he was playing to the crowd with his dismissive comment about Harriet's perceptions being motivated by her friendship with Peck. I thought that was pretty shallow.

by jnb on Apr 18, 2012 9:05 am • linkreport

I sometimes get the impression that public servants are expected to do their job in sack cloth and ashes, always concerned and saddened that they use tax funds to survive. They need to innovate and perform and still hate themselves for working in government.

by OctaviusIII on Apr 18, 2012 9:14 am • linkreport

@Charlie

Here's how the Silver Line is being funded (excluding the LaHood deal or the disputed $300M):

Federal-FFGA $900,000 17.1%
Commonwealth of Virginia $275,000 5.2%
Airports Authority $215,484 4.1%
Loudoun County $252,273 4.8%
Fairfax County $846,167 16.1%
Dulles Toll Road Funding $2,766,771 52.6%
Total Sources of Funds $5,255,695 100.0%

http://www.metwashairports.com/file/4-Financial_Update.pdf

by Falls Church on Apr 18, 2012 9:44 am • linkreport

@Charlie

Just saw that your question was about Phase II specifically. The numbers I provided are for both phases. The breakout is on Slide 3 of the link I provided.

by Falls Church on Apr 18, 2012 9:48 am • linkreport

@fallschurch, thanks. But it a constanly shifting target. In your link, VA is only paying 23M and the feds nothing for phase II.

by charlie on Apr 18, 2012 9:56 am • linkreport

Out of curiosity, have other transit agencies had similarly bad luck with their recent bus purchases? Seems like the US-based bus manufacturers have some pretty serious quality control issues...

by andrew on Apr 18, 2012 9:58 am • linkreport

@selxic, the Examiner story on the ICC includes someone who complains that the sound barrier does not help, but instead creates a "wind tunnel" effect. The location and placement of the sound walls and trees is throughly analyzed. If the wall was to be removed, I bet the guy who is complaining that the wall does not help, would find the noise to be much worse. Some of the problem is that the planted tree barriers have to grow first. People want more sound barrier walls. Which will cost more money for an already very expensive piece of highway.

The Examiner article has a side bar on $300K that was spent to relocate 900 turtles. Implying that the turtles were more important than the people. Well, how much was spent on 1.4 million square feet of sound walls and landscaping for hundred of planted trees for noise abatement?

by AlanF on Apr 18, 2012 10:06 am • linkreport

@Charlie

The Feds are still paying nothing for Phase II. Phase II doesn't meet Fed requirements for "cost/benefit" which are absurdly defined as cost per passenger mile. The $23M the State is paying for Phase II is bumped up by the $150M from the LaHood deal. Also, as part of that deal Fairfax's portion increases because they are building the Rt. 28 station & garage. Basically, all the other percentages remain the same.

The current total for Fairfax (including Rt 28) is $900-965M (of which 80% will be financed through special tax districts) and for Loudoun is $260M. The current total cost of Phase II is $2.7B (the slides, which are dated, show $2.5B)

http://www.connectionnewspapers.com/news/2012/apr/12/fairfax-county-board-opts-phase-2-dulles-rail/

by Falls Church on Apr 18, 2012 10:19 am • linkreport

I don't like comparisons like that in articles either, AlanF. My confusion came from the following:
Feldmann said the state installed 1.4 million square feet of sound wall along the highway and planted hundreds of trees in communities that didn't qualify for sound walls.
I read it assuming there were walls everywhere, but then I wasn't entirely sure some areas didn't just have additional trees. Of course it's a "have" who is complaining (I don't understand the wind tunnel noise creation comparison), but I wasn't sure about the rest of the complaints because of the quoted wording. I suppose I'm asking if the trees and barriers are mutually exclusive?

by selxic on Apr 18, 2012 10:49 am • linkreport

I sometimes get the impression that public servants are expected to do their job in sack cloth and ashes, always concerned and saddened that they use tax funds to survive.

Only sometimes? I get that impression all the time. And while I know gov't is wasteful in areas they should be, I don't "need" public officials to report to me because I actually don't consider myself as their boss.

Now this GSA story is a doozy. I can't figure out how this Peck guy fits into the mismanagement of funds for the event itself. But I do know one thing, he was a fool to not think something was very, very, off about the idea that the gov't rate on a 2400 sq ft suite @ The M Resort was $99. Not when 2400 is about the sq of three average apt homes.

LivingSocial: a 32million tax break for a company that has yet to reap profits? Then the CEO states that they'll "make it commitment to DC if DC makes a commitment to" them? He likely meant well but I don't even like the way that sounds. Are they threatening to leave if they don't get a tax break?

by HogWash on Apr 18, 2012 11:40 am • linkreport

LivingSocial lost over $500 million last year so it's not like they are going to be around much longer to reap that tax break. It's a classic tech bubble company that will probably implode in 2-3 years, if not sooner.

by Phil on Apr 18, 2012 11:56 am • linkreport

From reading this article and other press reports, the main problem with Peck's conduct was his manifest unwillingness to discipline those involved with anything more than a reprimand or work effectively with the Inspector General. I'm sorry, but if you can't properly manage/motivate/discipline subordinates in your organization, you're never going to succeed in your "bigger picture" agenda, no matter how "visionary" it may be.

by Paulus on Apr 18, 2012 12:21 pm • linkreport

The Silver gets 52.6% of its funding from the Dulles Toll Road?

Wow!

Has anyone ever heard of a major transit project being 52.6% funded with road tolls? And mind you, this is only capital costs. We have yet to deal with the operating and maintenance subsidies which will run in perpetuity.

Is any money being spent on the Toll Road? I doubt it. It gets more raggedy every month. And the tolls increase annually (for now).

After this, we should never again see anyone ever howl about drivers being "subsidized".

by ceefer66 on Apr 18, 2012 3:40 pm • linkreport

There will always be complaining of some sorts about the ICC because the implacable opponents who tried every trick and tactic - and still failed - to stop it from being built simply can't accept their loss after all this time.

Not that I blame them. Road opponents usually get their way in this region. Maybe the ICC is the start of a reversal of fortune for DC region road-haters.

by ceefer66 on Apr 18, 2012 3:52 pm • linkreport

ceefer66, the Toll Roll is the free market in action. If people don't like the higher tolls, they are free to take I-66 and Route 7.

by John S. on Apr 18, 2012 4:09 pm • linkreport

John S,

You're correct. Toll Road users can - and will - bail out for I-66 and Route 7, among other routes.

Here's the rub. I-66 and Route 7 are already overloaded, so look for serious pressure to expand their capacity. Don't be surprised if Route 7 gets turned into a freeway like Route 28 has been from I-66 to Route 7.

Plus, a widened I-66 within Arlington's borders will likely happen. Thanks to the Agenda 639, there won't be much Arlington can do to stop it.

by ceefer66 on Apr 18, 2012 7:32 pm • linkreport

I frequently buy Living Social deals. I've actually bought two vacations and several restaurant deals from them. The deals have been pretty cool. But I also question the long-term viability of the Living Social business model. That's why I'm enjoying all the deals now because, as someone else wrote here, I'm not sure it can last long term.

While I was on my vacation the guy from the travel agency/tour group said they were losing money from the Living Social promotion. But they were willing to eat the loss because they hoped people would come back to buy a tour from them next year at full-price. The restaurants I go to hope they get repeat business.

But to be honest, as I've bought two vacations and perhaps ten vouchers to restaurants, I'm not sure if I would buy a travel deal at the full price or come back to that vendor. I think I've been back to only one of the restaurants that had a deal with them.

Whether Living Social lives or dies depends on whether people will actually go back to the restaurant or travel agency and pay the full price. I'm not sure if the restaurants, tour groups, and other businesses who run promotions with them will get enough repeat business to justify them losing money with these deals.

by Rain17 on Apr 19, 2012 3:47 am • linkreport

"Plus, a widened I-66 within Arlington's borders will likely happen. Thanks to the Agenda 639, there won't be much Arlington can do to stop it."

And in 2032, when gas is $18.00 a gallon and the daily commute most make now is not feasible, those extra lanes can converted into an express Metrorail route between West Falls Church and Rosslyn!

by FrankDS on Apr 19, 2012 6:58 am • linkreport

ceefer: do tell how VDOT is going to pay for this 66 widening and Route 7 freeway conversion, especially when they're sending billions of BORROWED money to ROVA to pay for pet projects elsewhere.

by Froggie on Apr 19, 2012 7:38 am • linkreport

LivingSocial will either (a) go bankrupt and close or (b) have its staff rolled into Amazon's operations and be moved out west.

There is absolutely no reason to believe that a coupon-clipping pyramid scheme that churns through business clients and leaves a trail of dissatisfaction will be around in 2-3 years. Especially when you lose 1/2 BILLION dollars in a single year of operation. That's downright embarrassing.

We should have just kept taking the tax money...since they won't have any to pay the bills anyway in a few years time.

Everyone keeps acting like DC is some booming tech center...but where are the companies? If LivingSocial is the best example...than that's mighty troubling.

by swested on Apr 19, 2012 8:36 am • linkreport

Everyone keeps acting like DC is some booming tech center...but where are the companies? If LivingSocial is the best example...than that's mighty troubling.

The companies are all on the Dulles Toll Road and I-270 right now, although they are slowly starting to move into downtown - a good sized VC firm just did so.

by Phil on Apr 19, 2012 1:30 pm • linkreport

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