Would you gamble money you have not yet earned on a game where you didn’t know the odds of winning? Would you place that bet if you had no idea if there would ever be an eventual payoff in either the near or long term? Would you purchase a house, a car or major appliance based on a 30% cost projection of what someone believed the final cost would be?
That is EXACTLY what the City of Virginia Beach, Hampton Roads Transit, Light Rail Now, Virginia Beach CONNEX and the Editorial Board of the Virginian Pilot think you should do when they encourage you to vote “YES” on the Light Rail referendum.
When the Norfolk City Council voted to proceed with Light Rail, it was a bold, expensive step into the future with many unknowns that would eventually end up costing taxpayers millions.
It is a well-documented fact that the Tide Light Rail was finally completed a year behind schedule and $106 million dollars over the initial budget, so it begs the question: How much will the overruns on the Virginia Beach extension to Town Center cost taxpayers?
That is a fair question to ask as our opponents have gone to great lengths to assure voters that everything will be just fine and there’s no need for concern. They downplay the potential problems and additional expenses by claiming that the tax revenue, jobs and “choices” in transportation will make the whole endeavor worth it in the end. Just sit back, relax and trust that your government is doing the best job possible.
It is important to remember that this isn’t some hyper-efficient organization we’re discussing, this is Hampton Roads Transit. If history is any guide, voters need to be especially vigilant when the idea of spending large sums of taxpayer dollars on a project associated with HRT is floated.
Remember, this is the same organization that pushed out its last C.E.O. for doing such a terrible job on building Light Rail and allowing over $100 million dollars in cost overruns, they awarded him a severance package valued at about $300 thousand dollars as he was pushed out the door.
That was $300 thousand dollars of YOUR money they gave him.
An article that appeared in the summer 2002 edition of the Journal of the American Planning Association we wanted to share with you makes a pretty compelling argument to hear what planners and government officials say, but watch what they do carefully.
If you are even remotely interested in the affairs of our municipal government, you should read this article.
This article discussed “258 transportation infrastructure projects representing different types, geographical regions and historical periods and found an overwhelming statistical significance that the cost estimates used to decide whether such projects should be built are and systematically misleading. Underestimation cannot be explained by error and is best explained by ‘strategic misrepresentation’ that is, lying. The policy implications are clear: legislators, administrators, investors, media representatives, and members of the public who value honest numbers should not trust cost estimates and cost-benefit analyses produced by project promoters and their analysts.”
Is this what took place in Norfolk? With the discovery of a second set of books on the project to conceal cost overruns from federal transportation authorities and intentional miscalculations of costs like “forgetting” to include the Light Rail train communications gear, a pretty strong argument could be made that these things were done intentionally to put off a day of reckoning until after the train started rolling and by then, hopefully everyone would forget.
Are the cost projections for the Virginia Beach extension accurate? The 30% cost projections are due at the end of September but they are only that, cost projections. No one can say with any degree of certainty what the final cost will be until the last invoice arrives. However, once construction begins the City of Virginia Beach and its taxpayers are on the hook for whatever the final cost will be.
Adding to this, increasing bus service in Virginia Beach (which is badly needed) and funding Light Rail will double the cost of our financial commitment to Hampton Roads Transit from around $4.5 million dollars per year to approximately $9 million dollars per year. It is hoped that within three years, federal transportation dollars will become available to help offset those costs, but no one can say with any certainty that this will happen.
Our opponents at Virginia Beach Connex, an arm of Light Rail Now claims in their newspaper ads that voting YES will keep taxes low, so perhaps they would care to explain the recent 1.8 cent real estate tax increase Virginia Beach homeowners were levied. And perhaps they would also care to explain the logic behind the statement made by a Mr. Chris Bonney at a recent forum at which he said:
“Even w/o any new revenues, #lightrail would cost VB residents avg of $48 a year. – Chris Bonney”
Please keep in mind: Light Rail advocacy groups won the 2012 vote by 62.7% by running advertisements claiming that all anyone wanted to do was “study” light rail. That’s all, just to study it. Now here they are in 2016 after attempting everything they could think of to keep our referendum question off the ballot with a different approach while pointing to the 2012 results as though it was a voter mandate to go forward with Light Rail. Now that real dollar amounts are being realized and taxpayers are opening their real estate bills to find that they are more expensive while household income is still not keeping pace with the cost of living, there seems to be a seismic shift in the attitude towards government spending. People are finally waking up to the fact that when the government spends, the taxpayer pays for it.
So here our opponents are claiming that light rail will keep taxes low, while on the other hand claiming that our taxes will go up. Sure, an “avg” of $48.00 as Mr. Bonney claims might not seem like much, on average only .52 cents per week. But the point is that $48.00 is money that you earned and regardless of his or anyone else’s “vision” for what Hampton Roads or Virginia Beach should be in 20 or 40 years, you should be entitled and indeed, deserve to keep as much of it as possible. It’s easy to spend money that someone else has earned, but it’s pretty unethical to force taxpayers into an open-ended commitment that once it is started, it must be completed regardless of cost.
Finally, it is a matter of record that now-City Manager Dave Hansen stated that “Virginia Beach taxpayers would be responsible for any cost overruns.” What this means is, regardless of how much it ends up costing, Virginia Beach taxpayers will be held financially responsible for any mistakes or even deliberate miscalculations that raise the price of Light Rail. We saw what happened in Norfolk and even after the $106 million in cost overruns, HRT was still asking for more taxpayer dollars for other retrofits and upgrades that were needed.
We oppose the idea of handing the City of Virginia Beach, Hampton Roads Transit, Light Rail Now or Virginia Beach CONNEX a blank check for Light Rail. Once this train gets started, there is no telling how much it will eventually cost. Sadly, many people in this economy are struggling to simply make it from day to day and haven’t the time or the resources to concern themselves with what might happen or what might transpire after we are gone.