The McDonnells are accused of receiving numerous high-value gifts from businessman Jonnie Williams Sr. in exchange for McDonnell using his influence to benefit Williams’ Richmond-area business, Star Scientific.
The 43-page indictment lists more than $140,000 worth of luxury goods, golf equipment, clothing and dietary supplements subject to federal seizure should the McDonnells be convicted.
McDonnell’s four-year term in office ended Jan. 11.
From a Department of Justice press release:
According to the indictment, from April 2011 through March 2013, the McDonnells participated in a scheme to use the former governor’s official position to enrich themselves and their family members by soliciting and obtaining payments, loans, gifts and other things of value from Star Scientific, a Virginia-based corporation, and “JW,” then Star Scientific’s chief executive officer. The McDonnells obtained the things of value in exchange for the former governor performing official actions on an as-needed basis to legitimize, promote and obtain research studies for Star’s products, including the dietary supplement Anatabloc®.
As alleged in the indictment, the McDonnells obtained from JW more than $135,000 in direct payments as gifts and loans, thousands of dollars in golf outings, and numerous other things of value. As part of the alleged scheme, the official actions that Robert McDonnell performed included arranging meetings for JW with Virginia government officials, hosting and attending events at the Governor’s Mansion designed to encourage Virginia university researchers to initiate studies of Star’s products and to promote Star’s products to doctors for referral to their patients, contacting other Virginia government officials as part of an effort to encourage Virginia state research universities to initiate studies of Star’s products, and promoting Star’s products and facilitating its relationships with Virginia government officials.
The indictment further alleges that the McDonnells attempted to conceal the things of value received from JW and Star to hide the nature and scope of their dealings with JW from the citizens of Virginia by, for example, routing things of value through family members and corporate entities controlled by the former governor to avoid annual disclosure requirements. Moreover, the indictment alleges that on Oct. 3, 2012, Robert McDonnell sent loan paperwork to a lender that did not disclose the loans from JW, and on Feb. 1, 2013, the McDonnells signed loan paperwork submitted to another lender that did not disclose the loans. Similarly, the indictment alleges that on Feb. 15, 2013, Maureen McDonnell was questioned by law enforcement about the loans and made false and misleading statements regarding the defendants’ relationship with JW. Three days later, on Feb. 18, 2013, Robert McDonnell is alleged to have sent loan paperwork to one of the previously mentioned lenders disclosing the loans from JW. Additionally, after her interview with law enforcement, Maureen McDonnell allegedly wrote a handwritten note to JW in which she falsely attempted to make it appear that she and JW had previously discussed and agreed that she would return certain designer luxury goods rather than keep them permanently, all as part of an effort to obstruct, influence and impede the investigation.
An indictment is merely an accusation, and the defendants are presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty.
If convicted, the McDonnells could each face a maximum statutory sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of the greater of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss on the conspiracy to commit honest-services wire fraud count, the honest-services wire fraud counts, the conspiracy to obtain property under color of official right count, and the obtaining property under color of official right counts; a maximum statutory sentence of 30 years in prison and a fine of the greater of $1,000,000 or twice the gross gain or loss on the false statement counts; and a maximum statutory sentence of 20 years in prison and a fine of the greater of $250,000 or twice the gross gain or loss on the obstruction of an official proceeding count.
The rest of the press release, after the jump.
Metro Accident Victim Identified as GMU Student — The person struck and killed on the Metrorail Orange Line tracks between East Falls Church and Ballston early Sunday morning has been identified as 21-year-old George Mason University student Patrick Sibley. Sibley’s brother says he did not have a good sense of direction and may have become lost after leaving a bar in Clarendon and trying to make it home to Vienna. Metro is not commenting on the incident while it is under investigation. [Washington Post]
McDonnell Touts Budget Surplus — Gov. Bob McDonnell says the state ended its fiscal year on June 30 with $585 million more than projected. That’s the largest state surplus since 2005. The cumulative surplus during McDonnell’s nearly four years in office comes in at around $2 billion. [Washington Times]
County Labor Day Closures — Arlington County has posted a list of programs and services that will remain operational while the county offices are closed for Labor Day on Monday, September 2. Libraries, parks, pools, courts and schools will all be closed. [Arlington County]
Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
By contrast, Governor wannabe Ken Cuccinelli insists he has no intention of returning any of the more than $18,000 in gifts he received from the same businessman. Cuccinelli’s “explanation”: the gifts he received (e.g., a catered Thanksgiving dinner, private jet trips, luxury vacation lodging) are the kinds of gifts that literally cannot be returned (unlike McDonnell’s Rolex watch). To quote Cuccinelli, “There are some bells you can’t un-ring”.
Mr. Cuccinelli, don’t insult our intelligence.
You can place a dollar value on every gift you received from businessman Jonnie Williams. You are perfectly capable of writing him a check for the total amount of all those gifts. Your refusal to do so is sending a message to the voters of Virginia about your personal ethical standards. As I have previously written, it’s a disappointing message — a message that says a lot of bad things about you.
Since it is so obvious that your refusal to return your gifts would be contrasted unfavorably with McDonnell’s agreement to return his, why have you taken this stand? Is it because you think you are tougher or smarter than our current Governor? If that’s not the explanation, what is?
Don’t expect us to accept your excuse that “there are some bells you can’t un-ring”. You are trying to sell yourself to Virginia’s voters as a savvy lawyer who knows his way around a courtroom, noting that this experience helps qualify you to be our Governor. For this reason, your striking misuse of the phrase, “there are some bells you can’t un-ring,” is an embarrassment to your candidacy.
That phrase is most appropriately used in a courtroom when information has been given to jurors that they are not supposed to have. After that happens, the judge frequently offers to instruct the jury to disregard the information, but the lawyer for the party that might be harmed if the jury relies on the information often moves for a mistrial on the grounds that “there are some bells you can’t un-ring”.
Mr. Cuccinelli, you don’t seem to be able to use your legal training very well.
Mr. Cuccinelli, get out your checkbook and un-ring that bell.
Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.
Gun Fact Check — New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg took aim at Virginia for being one of the top suppliers of guns used to commit crimes in his city. He called out the state for having weak gun laws. Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell’s office fought back, releasing a statement saying the state has some of the toughest gun laws in the country and its rates of crimes such as homicide and robbery are lower than in New York City. The New York Daily News checked out the claim, however, and found that Virginia has 3.9 killings for every 100,000 people. That’s compared to the state of New York — not just New York City — with 3.5 murders per 100,000 people. [New York Daily News]
Rabbits at Library — The library’s regular Paws to Read program is on hiatus in August. Instead of using dogs this month, one of the librarians suggested bringing in rabbits to join kids while they read. The librarian noted that the Muslim families she knows aren’t able to participate in the Paws to Read program because Islam discourages touching dogs. Three rabbits — Mocha, Copper and Apache — already took turns cuddling up with visitors at the Columbia Pike Branch Library. [Arlington Public Library]
Rabbit Population on the Rise — Arlington is one of the D.C. metro areas experiencing a rabbit boom. The county’s chief naturalist confirmed that there’s been a spike in most of Arlington’s neighborhoods. Because they typically don’t carry diseases or bother humans, the rabbit boom isn’t causing alarm. In fact, because the animals are prey for a number of other creatures, it’s believed their numbers will naturally come under control. [Washington Post]
Bezos to Buy Washington Post — Jeff Bezos, the owner of Amazon.com, has agreed to buy the Washington Post for $250 million in cash. The sale is expected to be completed within 60 days. Employees at the Post were reportedly shocked by the deal. [Poynter Institute]
West Nile Detected at Fort McNair — West Nile Virus have been detected in mosquitoes across the river from Arlington at Fort McNair. Fort McNair is part of Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall; West Nile was not found in the Fort Myer portion of the base. [U.S. Army]
Free Slurpee Day at 7-Eleven — Today, 7/11/13, customers can get a free small Slurpee from 7-Eleven stores from 11:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. This year, instead of 7.11 ounces, the free Slurpees have increased in size to 12 ounces. [USA Today]
ART Now on Google Maps – Google Maps now allows you to plan trips and get additional information on Arlington Transit (ART) bus routes. [Arlington Transit]
Favola Calls on McDonnell to Resign — Arlington state Senator Barbara Favola (D) is calling on Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) to resign in the wake of accusations that he and his family received a series on undisclosed gifts while in the governor’s mansion. [WAMU]
Median Sale Prices Dropping in Arlington — According to numbers from Rockville-based data firm RealEstate Business Intelligence, the median home sales price in Arlington was $535,000 in June, down 2.7 percent from one year prior. The drop comes while prices in Fairfax and Alexandria were up significantly. Meanwhile, Arlington’s median sales price is also down 0.1 percent year-to-date. Possible explanations for the drop, other than potential weakness in the real estate market, include a preponderance of condo sales this year or a raft of high-end sales last year. [Washington Post, RBI]
Flickr pool photo by Eschweik
Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) and County Board Chair Walter Tejada announced Wednesday that the state, county and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority are looking into leasing the air rights above I-66 near the East Falls Church and Rosslyn Metro stations in order to generate additional revenues for transportation improvements.
“By leasing airspace above certain transportation facilities owned by the Commonwealth, we can better utilize our existing infrastructure to generate additional revenues to fund future transportation improvements, while at the same time attracting new jobs and economic development,” McDonnell said in a statement. “Additionally, by co-locating these potential developments around existing Metro stations and other major transportation facilities, we can reduce congestion and create more livable communities.”
From the press release:
Air rights development projects have proven a successful revenue generator in other parts of the United States. The Massachusetts Department of Transportation, for example, generated $40 million in FY 2011 through leases, with long-term lease income projected at $868 million. Further, earlier this year MassDOT awarded a contract for an additional air rights project through a 99-year lease that will generate $18.5 million (net present value) in rental payments.
“Virginia has long been a leader in partnering with the private sector to advance innovative solutions to our transportation infrastructure needs,” said Secretary of Transportation Sean T. Connaughton. “The potential development of these air rights presents a unique opportunity to attract additional private sector investment to the Commonwealth and better utilize our existing assets to fund future transportation projects.”
Arlington County is currently undertaking a review of the Rosslyn Sector Plan. As part of that process, development over I-66 in the northern and eastern edges of the Rosslyn Metro Station area can be evaluated. While there are no existing mixed-use development rights over the I-66 right-of-way at either Rosslyn or the East Falls Church Metro Station location, the East Falls Church Area Plan currently supports mixed use development on VDOT and WMATA’s property next to I-66.
Arlington County Board Chairman J. Walter Tejada emphasized, “It is important to involve our residents, businesses and developers in this conversation about air rights. We will ensure that any potential transit-orientated development using these air rights in Arlington County is consistent with our community’s vision and is consistent with the County’s land use and transportation plans.”
The state has issued a Request for Information to gauge private sector interest and feasibility. Following the RFI, the county, various state agencies and WMATA will weigh in on assessing how the air rights would match up with the planned development for the communities. The state will then issue a Request for Proposals in the fall, according to the governor’s office.
The Rosslyn project has a suggested location adjacent to the Lynn Street overpass, but staff of the state Office of Public-Private Partnerships said it would consider other areas of I-66 in Rosslyn if those were deemed feasible.
At East Falls Church, the area of I-66 between Sycamore Street and Route 29, including the Metro parking lot to the north, is the targeted area.
Ebbin and Del. Scott Surovell (D-Mt. Vernon) both plan to introduce bills to get rid of the tax during the 2014 legislative session.
“Hybrids already pay gas taxes and the mileage of both hybrids and non-hybrids vary significantly,” said Ebbin. “There are gasoline-only autos that get better mileage than some hybrids, and some hybrids, including SUVs, that do not get mileage as good as many gas-only powered cars. The punitive annual hybrid tax was not well thought out and hastily passed.”
The $64 tax went into effect yesterday as part of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s (R) transportation bill. As a compromise between McDonnell and the state General Assembly, the amount was reduced from the originally proposed $100 hybrid tax. The measure is expected to raise about $5 million out of the $1.4 billion budget.
The more than 91,000 hybrid vehicles registered in Virginia make up about one percent of all vehicles in the state. Around 80 percent of the hybrids are registered in Northern Virginia.
Earlier this year, Ebbin and Surovell circulated a petition requesting the removal of the tax from the transportation bill. That petition picked up around 8,000 signatures but did not prevent the tax from being included.
The two lawmakers plan to introduce the bills to repeal the hybrid tax on the first day of the state’s new legislative session, which is January 8.
Heavy Seas Alehouse to Open in Rosslyn — Baltimore brewer Heavy Seas plans to open a restaurant at the newly renovated 1501 Wilson Blvd in Rosslyn. So far, the existing Baltimore location is the only other Heavy Seas Alehouse besides the one planned for Rosslyn. The restaurant is expected to open by the end of this year. [Washington Business Journal]
Army Ten-Miler Registration to Begin — Registration for the Army Ten-Miler opens at midnight on Wednesday, May 15. This year, 35,000 spots will be available for the October 20 race, instead of 30,000. General admission entries sold out within nine hours last year. [Army Ten-Miler]
Local Eighth Grader Named State’s Top Female Orator — Swanson Middle School eighth grader Dorothee Mulumba won the Virginia State Oratorical Contest on May 4. In total, her scholarship winnings from the local, regional and state competitions add up to $3,000. [Sun Gazette]
McDonnell Signs Transportation Bill — On Monday, Gov. Bob McDonnell signed the transportation funding bill into law. The law cuts the state’s 17.5 cents per gallon gas tax and raises the state sales tax from 5 percent to 5.3 percent, in addition to adding a $64 registration fee for hybrid vehicles. [Washington Post]
Flickr pool photo by Mark C. White
Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
Both cases illustrate the toxic mix of Virginia’s notoriously weak conflict of interest laws with ambitious politicians who flew too close to the sun.
McDonnell: In 2011, the CEO of Star Scientific made a $15,000 gift to defray the costs of the wedding of McDonnell’s daughter Caitlin. The $15,000 was not disclosed as a contribution on the grounds that the money was a gift to McDonnell’s daughter — not to him.
While it is disputed whether McDonnell’s agreement to be responsible for the cost of the wedding did require disclosure of the $15,000 gift, there is no disagreement that Star Scientific is the subject of a federal securities investigation. Moreover, both McDonnell and his wife have found several occasions to promote a new Star Scientific dietary supplement.
Cuccinelli: Star Scientific filed a lawsuit challenging a tax assessment on property it owned. Cuccinelli was required to arrange for legal representation to defend the state against Star Scientific’s lawsuit, but that legal representation did not have to be provided by the Attorney General’s own office.
Cuccinelli did represent the state in Star Scientific’s lawsuit, but failed to disclose that he had a financial interest exceeding $10,000 in Star Scientific. In October 2010, Cuccinelli purchased a little more than $10,000 worth of Star Scientific stock. At the end of the year, the value of that stock dropped below $10,000, and therefore did not need to be disclosed. But, in September 2011 Cuccinelli acquired 3,600 additional shares in the company, lifting the value of his total stock holdings to nearly $19,000.
After enterprising reporters published the whole story, Cuccinelli agreed to appoint outside lawyers to represent the state of Virginia in Star Scientific’s lawsuit.
These events illustrate some inconvenient truths about:
- Virginia’s conflict of interest laws
- Bob McDonnell
- Ken Cuccinelli
As the average person instinctively recognizes, it is just ridiculous that Virginia law says there is no conflict of interest if a Virginia elected official has a $9,999 financial interest in a company which can benefit from public decisions, but there is a conflict of interest if the same public official has a $10,001 financial interest. It‘s also ridiculous that the law says that gifts to a public official’s immediate family members do not require disclosure.
Let’s assume that McDonnell and Cuccinelli both knew what the law required, but decided they had not violated the law.
Such decisions reflect ethical standards that are far too low, and reflect negatively on their aspirations for higher office.
Peter Rousselot is a member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.
McDonnell has vetoed two bills that would have allowed Arlington County to levy a 0.25 percent hotel tax surcharge. The Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) surcharge would have helped fund the county’s tourism promotion efforts, and was actually lobbied for by the Hotel General Managers’ Committee of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce.
Del. Bob Brink (D-Arlington), the sponsor of the House bill (HB 2303) that passed last month, says the governor called him on Monday night to tell him that he was planning to veto the bill. Gov. McDonnell said he was vetoing Arlington’s TOT bill, and a similar bill for the City of Fairfax, because he was concerned about Northern Virginia hotels being “placed in a competitive disadvantage in comparison with D.C. and Maryland,” according to Brink.
The local hotel tax surcharge increase bills came at the same time as a legislated increase in the regional TOT in Northern Virginia, as part of the state’s sweeping transportation funding package. McDonnell also reduced the Northern Virginia TOT increase from 3 percent to 2 percent on Tuesday.
(Other amendments to the transportation package made by McDonnell include a slight reduction in the proposed vehicle titling tax — from 4.3 to 4.15 percent — a reduction in the new annual fee paid by owners of hybrid and alternative fuel vehicles — from $100 to $64 — and the reduction of a regional congestion fee.)
In a statement, Brink said that McDonnell’s veto of his bill will hurt, not help local hotels.
I’m disappointed that the Governor has taken this action and that the Arlington bill got caught up in the larger politics of the transportation bill. The concern that the Governor expressed to me — our hospitality sector’s competitive position in relation to neighboring jurisdictions — is the precise reason that Arlington’s hospitality industry sought this legislation. In the uncertain economic climate of the DC region, Arlington’s hotels need all the tools available to compete for tourism and business travel. HB 2303 would have given them one powerful additional tool, and I regret that our business community won’t have it at its disposal.
Democratic Northern Virginia legislators joined gubernatorial hopeful Terry McAuliffe in spending part of the afternoon praising the state’s newly passed transportation bill and Republican Governor Bob McDonnell’s role in pushing it through.
State Sen. Dick Saslaw, Sen. Janet Howell and Del. Alfonso Lopez joined McAuliffe in discussing the bipartisanship and compromises needed for passing the legislation. Howell noted that nobody fully backed the bill but legislators had to put aside their difference to reach a compromise on the state’s first transportation funding plan in nearly three decades.
“We had very different views on what the ultimate solution should be. We had philosophical differences, we had regional differences, we had partisan differences. But we agreed on one crucial matter — doing nothing was no longer an option,” said Howell. “We’ve all disagreed with Governor McDonnell on certain issues, but this was a time when we came together. Like every compromise, no one got exactly what he or she wanted. In fact, there are parts of it that make me want to gag. But we made progress for Virginia.”
The press conference took place near the Washington Blvd bridge over Columbia Pike; speakers took turns referencing the bridge and how the new bill would fund similar infrastructure projects.
“We have needed this in South Arlington for literally decades. Because of the compromise that we were able to hash out in the General Assembly, there will be projects like this happening all across the Commonwealth,” Lopez said. “Literally, there have been pieces falling out of that bridge for decades and now we’re getting it fixed.”
Although he wasn’t directly a part of passing the legislation himself, McAuliffe said he spent hours on the phone with members of both parties, pushing them to find a compromise. The former Democratic National Committee chairman commended all legislators involved while alluding to more projects on failing infrastructure should he win the governor’s seat.
“We finally have some money to do what we need to do to keep the citizens safe,” said McAuliffe. “This was a bipartisan effort to deal with transportation. We are able to stand here today, where inaction has been happening for 27 years, and say something was done.”
McAuliffe did take time to blast Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who is expected to be his Republican rival for governor. He bashed Cuccinelli, as did the other officials in attendance, for acting as a roadblock to the transportation bill. He then turned his focus to another of his campaign issues — job creation.
“We need to be making sure that if we’re going to get cuts here, your next governor is focused on diversifying this economy, bringing in 21st century jobs. And you can only do that by a great transportation system, a great education system, workforce training,” said McAuliffe. “I can work with anybody, any time of the day, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, anybody, anytime if you’re going to help me create jobs for the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
One of the issues in the transportation bill that has been controversial in Northern Virginia is the $100 annual tax for hybrid vehicle owners. Saslaw told ARLnow.com that he could potentially argue for either side of that issue, but it might be better for the governor in the long run if he performs a line item veto on that particular measure.
“The governor probably would be better off lining it out. You could say the squeeze ain’t worth the juice having it in there. It’s an awful lot of aggravation for $18 million out of an $800 million dollar thing,” Saslaw said. “It only takes a minute to look at it, I don’t know if he’ll do anything. And if he starts mucking with it too much, it’s going to start to get rejected.”
Saslaw said the issue will likely create more trouble than it’s worth because the number of hybrid drivers in the state is so small — only a little more than 1 percent of the total vehicle owners. He believes it might have made more sense to find another revenue boost, such as raising vehicle registration fees or imposing a tax based on a vehicle’s gas usage per gallon, not simply the fact that it’s hybrid. In the end, he reiterated that the bill was imperfect, but it needed to pass.
“I voted for the compromise, as did everyone else, because when that thing comes out of conference you either vote for it or you don’t vote for it,” said Saslaw. “As Senator Howell pointed out, [it] is not the ideal situation. In fact, when it becomes law, it’s going to have to be tweaked.”
Pentagon City Mall Renovations — Coming on the heels of the news that Ballston Common Mall will be getting a revamp, the owners of Fashion Centre at Pentagon City announced plans to renovate that mall as well. Although no formal plan has been revealed, changes could include adding office space or apartments. Renovations for the 24-year-old mall would be paid for out of a pot of about $1 billion that Simon Property Group Inc. has set aside for updating its properties. [Washington Business Journal]
Fire Hydrant Color Meaning — Arlington doesn’t have one standard color for fire hydrants; instead, the county adopted a coloring system in the 1990s indicating the flow of water at each particular hydrant. Blue hydrants have water flow above 1,500 gallons per minute (gpm), green is between 1,000 and 1,500 gpm, orange is 500 to 1,000 gpm and red is below 500 gpm. The color scheme allows firefighters to quickly determine if one hydrant will be enough to fight a fire, or if a water relay system is necessary. [Washington Post]
More Signs Requested for Westover Market — Organizers of the Westover Market believe a drop in attendance occurred for the new winter market because of the county’s sign restrictions. There has been a drop of up to 90 percent, according to organizers, and they believe the attendance would be greater if they were allowed to post more signs advertising the market. The County Board asked County Manager Barbara Donnellan to investigate the issue. [Sun Gazette]
Library Hosts Croatian Ambassador — The Central Library (1015 N. Quincy Street) will host a celebration of Croatia tonight featuring music, food, cultural displays and a visit from Croatian Ambassador Joško Paro. The event begins at 7:00 p.m. [Arlington Public Library]
Hybrid Tax Petition — Virginia Senator Adam Ebbin and Delegate Scott Surovell launched a petition to get Gov. Bob McDonnell to eliminate the so-called hybrid tax in the newly passed transportation bill. Under the bill, drivers of hybrid vehicles would have to pay a $100 fee each year. McDonnell said he’d review that portion of the bill. [NBC 4]
SUV Runs Off Memorial Bridge – An SUV drove off the Memorial Bridge and plunged into the Potomac around 10:00 last night. The driver was taken to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, according to police. A bridge barrier was damaged and the bridge was closed by police until the early morning hours. [WJLA, Washington Post]
‘Ballston Southern Gateway’ Plan Approved – The Arlington County Board on Saturday approved an addendum to its North Quincy Street Plan, which is designed “to transform the southern gateway of Ballston from an automobile-oriented area into a more pedestrian-friendly, great urban place.” The plan calls for higher residential and commercial buildings in the area around the Harris Teeters and the Mercedes Benz dealership. [Arlington County]
Supreme Court to Consider DNA Practice that Helped ACPD – The U.S. Supreme Court is set to consider the constitutionality of a DNA practice that helped Arlington County Police link former Marine Jorge Torrez, accused of raping an Arlington woman and leaving her for dead, with the murder of two girls in Illinois. The high court will consider whether taking a DNA sample from someone arrested for a serious crime — before they’re convicted — is an unconstitutional invasion of privacy. [Los Angeles Times]
Board: We Can’t Sway Cemetery Expansion – Responding to the concerns of tree lovers over the weekend, members of the Arlington County Board said they have little power to sway the Army’s decision to expand Arlington National Cemetery. As originally planned, the expansion would cut down nearly 900 trees from an old growth forest on the cemetery grounds. The Army Corps of Engineers is currently re-evaluating its plan after complaints from tree advocates. [Sun Gazette]
Transpo Plan a ‘Big Win’ for McDonnell – Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) scored a big win with the passage of a compromise version of his transportation funding plan, according to Politico. But anti-tax advocate Grover Norquist decried the various tax increases in the bill, which could cost the average Virginia family between $10 and $15 per month. “The Democrats in the legislature mugged him good,” Norquist said of McDonnell. [Politico, Washington Post]
Photos: Demolition of Old Arlington Courthouse – On its blog, the library looks back at the demolition of the old Arlington County Courthouse building on Feb. 23, 1997. [Arlington Public Library]
Photo courtesy @mowdymichelle
School Boundary Meeting on Wednesday — Arlington Public Schools will hold its next school boundary meeting on Wednesday (February 6), at 7:00 p.m. in the Williamsburg Middle School auditorium. APS will share feedback gathered at the January 23 meeting, and present a smaller set of boundary options. After reviewing the options, meeting attendees will have the opportunity to offer feedback. The final set of options is expected to be offered to the School Board in late March.
Metro Region Worst for Traffic — The annual Texas A&M Transportation Institute survey lists the D.C. metro area as number one for the country’s worst traffic congestion, topping Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Boston. The average driver is said to spend 67 hours per year sitting in traffic. Analysts believe drivers will add seven hours to that number by 2020. [Washington Post]
Cuccinelli Backs Alternative Transportation Plan – Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli is not backing Gov. Bob McDonnell’s transportation plan, but rather a plan that’s considered the conservative alternative. Instead of eliminating the gas tax and increasing the sales tax as McDonnell’s plan proposed, the alternative plan would replace the current gas tax with a sales tax on gasoline. McDonnell’s plan has been controversial, including when the Arlington County Board bashed the proposal late last month. [Washington Examiner]
Free Pancakes at IHOP — Customers at IHOP can get a free short stack of pancakes today. Guests celebrating National Pancake Day are encouraged to leave a donation for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. The offer is limited to one stack per customer while supplies last. Arlington’s lone IHOP is at 935 N. Stafford Street in Ballston.
Flickr pool photo by Wolfkann
(Updated at 4:45 p.m.) County Board members spent a portion of Tuesday’s meeting expressing distaste with Governor McDonnell’s proposed transportation plan, namely the idea of eliminating Virginia’s gas tax.
The proposal would do away with the 17.5 cents per gallon gas tax, but would increase the state’s sales tax from five percent to 5.8 percent. The plan also would increase vehicle registration fees and add a yearly $100 charge for drivers with alternative fuel cars. McDonnell said that would raise about $3.1 billion over five years to fund road, transit and rail projects across the state.
County Board member Jay Fisette said that while it’s good to have some sort of proposal on the table in order to start a conversation about transportation funding, this plan is not the answer. He further stated that the plan was offered to the General Assembly at the last minute, without adequate time to review and understand it.
“Many people see this as a vehicle on which to find a better compromise or a more functional proposal,” he said. “This is hugely important to Arlington, to Northern Virginia and to the future of this state. I’m willing to give kudos for starting a conversation, but if this passed it would be a big mistake in the form it was proposed by the governor.”
Fisette believes eliminating the gas tax would incentivize driving and reduce the use of public transit.
“While it sounds good to eliminate a tax, they would be adding others. This is a user fee. There is a gas tax in every state in the United States. We would be the first to decouple the incentive to drive with the cost of driving,” said Fisette. “You’re still looking at a fee to ride transit, but you’re going to remove the gas fee for driving and spread that cost among everyone who buys something in Virginia. That doesn’t seem fair to people who choose to use transit.”
Several Board members worried that the proposal wouldn’t actually raise the additional money McDonnell says it will, but simply moves it over from a different area.
“It shifts money from the general fund, which has been the basic source of funds for education, human services and public safety, and shifts those to transportation,” said Fisette. “So it’s robbing the basic source of funds for the rest of our needs to pay for transportation.”
Board member Mary Hynes echoed Fisette’s concern.
“We can talk about how poorly they’ve spent the money they have, but the reality of what the governor has proposed is it’s mostly smoke and mirrors,” she said. “It’s taking away with one hand and putting it in another place. The actual new money that’s involved in any near term frame is very small.”
Both Fisette and Hynes pointed out that nearly one-third of the proposed funds ($1 billion) would not be immediately available because it’s tied to pending legislation in Congress regarding internet sales tax revenue.
The transportation plan’s perceived dilution of local government’s authority and an increased role for state government proved to be another recurring topic of discussion. Board member Chris Zimmerman called it a “blatant power grab.”
“This is getting very frustrating to a lot of people in local government, that the administration has been not only not helpful in providing more funding, but essentially is continually distracting the conversation with these efforts to shift power away from people who have to pay the bills,” said Zimmerman.
A legislative committee approved the governor’s proposal today, and it’s expected to go before the full House and Senate in the Virginia General Assembly next week. The General Assembly is currently about halfway through its short 45 day session.