What a way to run a business

Metro Derangement Disorder, cont.:

Let’s just suppose Extremely Businesslike Company A did the following.

After lengthy negotiations over a project for which Company A agrees to contribute an impressive 9 percent of the total cost, during which time Company A makes repeated demands for concessions and reductions in the project cost as a condition for agreeing to contribute an impressive 9 percent of the total cost — including forcing the other partners to abandon portions of the project of great importance and direct benefit to them — the directors of Company A announce a few months later that maybe they didn’t mean to sign the deal after all.

They are granted three months to reach a new decision. As the new deadline looms, they ask for and are granted another  three months.

During that time, they issue new vague threats of pulling out the project altogether and as a condition for their generous 9 percent contribution demand further concessions, which are granted by their other partners.

Then, as the new deadline looms, the directors of Company A start individually attempting to negotiate new terms on their own. Two weeks before the new final extended deadline, three of the nine directors issue a  letter, without consultation with their colleagues, in which they demand 21 new conditions — and a further extension of the deadline by five months.

Punchline: The three directors explain that their actions reflect their deep experience in the business world.

Of course another interpretation of the letter issued last week by very businesslike Loudoun supervisors Ken Reid (R-Leesburg), Geary Higgins (R-Catoctin), and Janet Clarke (R-Blue Ridge) is that caught between two unreconcilable factions in their own party, they are desperately trying to find a way to avoid having to vote for Metro to Loudoun without having to actually vote against it. It’s the oldest trick in the politician’s book to load down a proposal with so many impossible conditions that it dies by itself (the so-called “poison pill” amendment technique).

As stunned fellow supervisor Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn) told Leesburg Today about the last-minute conditions demanded by the business-savvy three:

“I was stunned. Most of these things are not within the control or purview of the board. Some of these require action from Congress, the General Assembly, MWAA [Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority], WMATA [Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority], private property owners, the governor. I honestly don’t know who we think we are.” [emphasis slightly added]

Couldn’t have said it better ourselves.

It’s still remarkable what heavy weather this very businesslike board is making of the Metro decision. You would think that we were talking about sending a Loudoun Countyite to the moon (possible nominee: Ken Reid) the way they are wringing their hands over special taxing districts to pay for the project and endless work sessions and surveys of residents. I don’t recall any equivalent concerns when the previous Republican board (the 2004–2007 Tulloch board) incurred half a billion costs in new school construction by throwing the county open to massive new residential development. We’re still paying for that decision: Thanks to their very developer-friendly policies, Loudoun is facing another half billion in new school costs over the next five years as all of the houses they approved back in 2004-2007 are built out.

To put Metro in perspective: Loudoun’s share of capital construction costs would be $270 million. By comparison, our very budget-conscious board recently adopted a $1.2 billion capital improvement budget without any similar apocalyptic rhetoric about crippling debt burdens or a special “capital improvement tax.”

Loudoun’s share of Metro’s  annual operating subsidy would be $7.4 million if the supervisors vote no on extending rail to Loudoun (Loudoun has to pay that no matter what) or $11.1 million if they vote yes. The difference, $3.7 million, is 0.02% of the county’s $1.8 billion annual budget. That works out to an increase in the property tax rate of 0.03 cents.

There are perfectly sensible arguments on both sides on the merits of bringing Metro to Loudoun. Just don’t expect to hear them from our all-Republican Loudoun Board of Supervisors, which is moving rapidly into covering-their-posteriors mode as the next deadline looms in the coming week.

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