Ron Meyer, Socialist?

Republican candidate for Broad Run supervisor, Ron Meyer, has a plan to confiscate private business, condemn private property, and raise your taxes, all in the name of free stuff for everyone from the government. You see, he thinks the solution to the Greenway being overpriced is to build more roads (who knew transportation problems could be solved with roads, eh?). Specifically, he says he wants to connect Shellhorn Road (which ends at Loudoun County Parkway) to Sterling Blvd (which ends at Pacific Blvd).

Well, there are few problems with that. One is the piece of private property informally known in Loudoun county as the “Antigone” parcel (after Chris Antigone, one of the partners that owns it). You can’t get from the east end of Shellhorn to the west end of Sterling without going through the middle of the Antigone parcel:

AntigoneParcel

That alone means Meyer’s idea is pure science fiction, but there are still more problems with his plan. After Meyer has convinced four other supervisors to condemn Chris Antigone’s land, he still has to cope with the industrial commercial operations that are immediately west of Pacific, and still east of Antigone. Meyer must think these businesses can be bulldozed out of the way of his magic road:

ShellhornSat
Now, Meyer never says a word in the Leesburg Today interview about how he’s going to pay for the road, the condemnations he’ll need for the right of way, or the cost of relocating all those existing uses. And that’s before one considers that his road would have to cross Broad Run, not just dry, flat land. We’re talking many millions of dollars here, but ignore that for now. Meyer says the benefits would be so many that, perhaps, he thinks cost is a trivial issue.

The benefits? First, according to Leesburg Today, he says, “his goal is to take enough commuters off the toll road to force Greenway owner and operator Toll Road Investors Partnership II to come to the negotiating table and either sell the road or institute graduated tolls.” Sell the road? To whom? Loudoun County? For how much? And, if we bought it, how does Meyer know we could operate it for less than TRIP II does? And, whether he buys it or forces TRIP II to move to graduated tolls, what’s the gain? That we all start using the Greenway again? Does that justify a massively expensive project we’d end up not using, while condemning huge amounts of private property and disrupting numerous businesses?

Never. Going. To happen.

I know Chris Antigone. He’s a decent guy, but he wants that parcel used for a convention center. It’s a brilliant idea that, if done with some cooperation from MWAA, might even allow visitors to land at Dulles International, walk onto the Metro, go one stop, and walk off into the lobby of their hotel. I haven’t spoken to him about it, but I doubt he’ll give up that dream in exchange for a freeway down the middle of his land. (Not to mention what a lost opportunity for prosperity that would be to Loudoun county.)

All of this just can’t be the thinking of a Republican. So what is Ron Meyer’s real political persuasion? The article offers a powerful clue, when it reports the other great benefit Meyer says this will include:

Meyer proposes extending Shellhorn Road to connect to Sterling Boulevard and create one path all the way to Rt. 28. That would almost parallel the Greenway and, he said, ‘give commuters a local, free alternative’ to the toll road.

Aha! The truth seeps out! Ron Meyer is a Socialist. He is everything Ayn Rand’s great champion of prosperity, John Galt, knew was wrong with trying to make a profit by passing a law. He wants to give you a better world for free. Who is the only party to suffer here? Meyer tells us:

‘This road—along with current projects widening Route 28 and finishing Gloucester Parkway—will take thousands of cars off the Greenway and heavily cut into their profits, Meyer said in a prepared statement.

Of course! Evil corporations must be made to pay for all the free stuff The People have the right to expect for nothing. Who cares if the board of supervisors bankrupts one of the biggest taxpayers in the county?

As absurd and unbelievable as all this is, it apparently actually is Ron Meyer’s platform. His enormous road signs all say, “Build Greenway Alternatives.” (They do not say, “Raise Taxes / Condemn Land / Kill Businesses,” but maybe that’s on the back).

Now, mixed into all this nonsense actually is a small piece of the real solution to the Greenway tolls: distance-based pricing. But nothing Ron Meyer or the Loudoun board of supervisors can do will bring that about. I know. We tried. The toll structure on the Greenway is regulated by the State Corporation Commission, which, in turn, is under the jurisdiction of the state legislature. While David Ramadan was doing all he could to ruin the state’s relationship with the Greenway’s operators, what he should have been doing was passing legislation to extend a low-interest loan to the Greenway to cover the cost of adding toll machines and new software to implement distance-based pricing. Increased use by short-haul users would allow them to pay off the loan and, assuming the use continued after that, TRIP II would actually start making a bit more money (or, just maybe, the SCC would hold off the next toll increase for a few years). That’s a public/private partnership that could work, requires no new construction, no condemnation, and helps a local business continue to operate and provide a service.

Only a Socialist could possibly find anything wrong with that.

When the Fox Rules Against You, Appeal to the Fox

Outgoing Dulles Broad Run Starfish district supervisor Shawn Williams (whom I think of as a pretty good guy whose party let him down), sent out a newsletter today. It included a description of efforts made by outgoing delegate David Ramadan and the Loudoun board of supervisors to lower tolls on the Greenway. Here’s what Sup. Williams said:

Last month, Delegate David Ramadan, who represents Virginia’s 87th District, and the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors took new steps in the ongoing effort to lower Greenway tolls. Both Ramadan and Loudoun County filed legal briefs with the State Corporation Commission in appeal of its Hearing Examiner’s findings, which did not result in a change to Greenway tolls.

The Board of Supervisors, along with Delegate David Ramadan, who represents Virginia’s 87th District, has taken steps to address this legal issue. In December of 2012, Delegate Ramadan filed a complaint with the State Corporation Commission and in January of 2013 the commission approved an investigation of the Greenway tolls. The complaint argued that the commission should set tolls at a level (1) “which is reasonable to the user in relation to the benefit obtained;” (2) “which will not materially discourage use of the roadway by the public;” and (3) which will provide the operator no more than a reasonable return as determined by the commission.” Loudoun County supports Ramadan’s approach as a party to this legal action.

The case initially went to a Hearing Examiner appointed by the State Corporation Commission, who did not rule in our favor. However, both the Board of Supervisors and Delegate Ramadan filed legal briefs with the State Corporation Commission in appeal of its Hearing Examiner’s findings, which did not result in a change to Greenway tolls because we believe this ruling was in error. Following the filing of the legal briefs onMarch 30th of this year, the full State Corporation Commission is expected to hear the case in the coming months.

I think most Ashburn area commuters would agree that the Greenway is discouraging use of their road due to high tolls. Clear evidence of this fact can be found in the daily traffic jams on Waxpool Road and Route 28. , the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) has classified portions of Waxpool Road and Route 28, which serve as the main alternative to the Greenway for commuters from the Ashburn area, with a Level of Service of ‘F.’ Subsequently, VDOT and Loudoun County have been forced to expend significant funds for traffic improvements and maintenance on the alternative corridors that could have been unnecessary if the Greenway’s fee structure were more reasonable.

Now that’s all well and good, as it looks like our electeds are fighting for us. Except… the decision to set tolls where they are was authorized–as it must be, under the Code of Virginia–by the State Corporation Commission. That’s the same State Corporation Commission that is reading all those legal briefs Williams talks about. In effect, with the fox guarding the hen-house, our electeds have have taken their complaints to the fox. Ramadan is not a lawyer, but I am and Williams is. The two of us who are know what the chances of getting a judge to rule against himself or herself is, and the chances of the SCC ruling against itself are probably about the same.

The solution, which the SCC has pointed out before, is to change the law. Right now, existing law requires the SCC to agree to a rate schedule that guarantees the Greenway a reasonable profit (and, with Republicans running the legislature, one would dearly love to ask them what Ayn Rand would have said about a law that guarantees a private company’s profits). Without a change in the law that governs the SCC’s rulings, the tolls on the Greenway are never going down. Likewise, as every Loudouner knows, distance pricing would be a major step in the right direction. Again, the SCC itself has said it is powerless to impose distance pricing, because of existing law.

David Ramadan has tried to make “fighting” the Greenway a feature of his two terms in office. But it’s a fight he has always known he can’t win, because the real solution would require a change in existing law. Shawn Williams and the rest of the Loudoun supervisors can’t change existing law. Who can? The legislature that includes David Ramadan as one of its members can. The General Assembly could mandate distance pricing. The General Assembly could grant the SCC more flexibility in its oversight of the Greenway. But neither Ramadan nor any other delegate whose constituents pay the Greenway’s tolls has tried to change those laws. (Jim LeMunyon, while famously calling the Greenway tolls “taxes,” tried to give local government the power to veto toll increases, a transparent ploy to make them take the blame for it when they had to choose between allowing higher tolls or raising local taxes, which he has since abandoned after everybody started laughing.)

Filing a legal brief is about all a local elected can do. But one of David Ramadan’s enduring failures as a legislator will always be that he claimed to want lower tolls on the Greenway, yet never used the power that he alone, as a member of the legislature, had to get them for us. Instead, he fought an irrelevant battle he could never win, where the only prize was the credit he gave himself for having fought it.