Legislation has been introduced in the General Assembly session to add two Virginia representatives to the governing body of the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, and one representative each for the District of Columbia and Maryland. This will not cure the fundamental problem with MWAA’s structure — its lack of accountability.
MWAA is independent of federal, state and local governments by the terms of the legislation that established that public authority. Congress, the Virginia General Assembly and the City Council of the District of Columbia enacted legislation creating MWAA as an interstate compact agency, making it the only entity in the nation that is beyond the control of elected officials and the people.
This has to change.
I have called for federal legislation to put the airports, Dulles Toll Road and Dulles Rail projects under the authority of the Commonwealth of Virginia. That is the most sensible, and perhaps the only way, to assure the operation of the airports and the activities related to their operation — including the toll road and the metrorail project — will be subject to the control of, and accountable to, the people and their elected representatives.
The problem of MWAA’s lack of accountability, which existed from its establishment, was compounded in 2006 when then-Gov. Tim Kaine (D) gave the toll road to MWAA with a grant of authority to raise tolls on that highway at MWAA’s discretion to fund construction of the metrorail project. MWAA also has the prerogative to decide the scope, scale and design of the metrorail project — regardless of the positions of Fairfax County, Loudoun County and the users of the toll road. MWAA’s abuse of those powers prompted the legislation to change the makeup of its governing body. That legislation will leave the problem of unaccountability unresolved.
MWAA’s power includes wide discretion to raise tolls and forces local taxpayers to pay for a metrorail project that MWAA alone has the authority to design and approve. This delegating of power to an unelected body is no less offensive than the General Assembly’s delegation of power to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority in 2007, which the Virginia Supreme Court unanimously struck down as unconstitutional on the grounds the state constitution prohibits the delegation of taxing power to unelected officials.
Regardless of the reasons for making MWAA independent and unaccountable, the arrangement violates the constitution and should be addressed without delay or hesitation if we believe in the fundamental law of the land.
Because MWAA is a compact agency to which Congress transferred two major federal airports, Congress alone has the power to correct this unconscionable absence of accountability. The state legislators should be insisting through a resolution that Congress take the appropriate action to remedy the situation.
Instead, they are agreeing to subsidize the nontransparent and unaccountable MWAA with $150 million of Virginian’s taxpayer money.
What is worse, Gov. Robert F. McDonnell and the Republican General Assembly are seeking to give $150 million to MWAA even though it just reaffirmed its commitment to mandate Project Labor Agreements on Phase II of the metrorail project — which is in direct violation of Virginia’s Right to Work laws.
The governor and the General Assembly should be insisting that Congress make MWAA accountable to Virginians by putting it under the authority of the Virginia legislature.
This is the only reasonable course of action because all of the projects of MWAA have a direct financial impact on the citizen of Virginia, with Fairfax, Loudoun and toll road users carrying the brunt of the financial burden.
Jamie Radtke is a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate.