VA GOP Lawmakers Seek Reforms in Port Operations
Va. GOP lawmakers seek reforms in port operations
BY MICHAEL MARTZ Richmond Times-Dispatch | Posted: Tuesday, January 15, 2013 2:00 am
Republican legislators in the House of Delegates and Senate propose to require reforms in the operation of the Port of Virginia while blocking the potential privatization of the port through the Public-Private Transportation Act.
Del. S. Chris Jones, R-Suffolk, and Sen. Frank W. Wagner, R-Virginia Beach, were joined by a bipartisan group of legislators from Hampton Roads to announce the legislation today.
The legislation would require the Virginia Port Authority to make reforms in port operations, including excessive compensation paid to executives of the authority and Virginia International Terminals, Inc., which operates port facilities for the state, and other unnecessary and duplicative expenses.
Legislators also want to prevent the state from receiving unsolicited proposals to privatize port operations through the PPTA, under which the administration of Gov. Bob McDonnell is reviewing three proposals for operating the port.
“I feel firmly that an unsolicited proposal is not in the best interest of the port,” Jones said at a news conference that included Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr., R-James City, and Hampton Roads legislators from both parties.
Among other things, the legislation also would exclude the port from state procurement and capital outlay requirements, give the authority’s director an ex-officio seat on the Commonwealth Transportation Board and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership a seat on the authority’s board, which would increase representation of Hampton Roads from three to four seats.
The legislation also would require re-enactment by the Assembly next year to ensure that the authority reports to the legislature on progress in reforms to increase the cargo volume at the port and reduce its expenses.
Jones already has introduced a resolution to require a comprehensive study of the Port of Virginia by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, which released a report last week that found the port to be more financially healthy and sustainable than previous studies had found and the administration had suggested.
The report also documented duplicative expenses and excessive executive compensation at the port authority and VIT, a nonprofit private corporation. Together, the two entities paid $2.9 million in executive compensation last year.
The McDonnell administration welcomed the legislative focus on the port’s operations today, but maintained that the state should continue to consider greater private sector involvement in the port.
“For two years the administration has been a lone voice raising concerns about the port’s operations,” Press Secretary Jeff Caldwell said in a statement today. “We greatly appreciate that a bipartisan group of the General Assembly have embraced port reform and we look forward to working with them on this critical issue.”
“The governor has made clear that the status quo is not acceptable and that the current organization needs to be reformed or a new operator installed to improve the state’s terminals performance,” Caldwell said, adding that the port’s health is “an issue that affects all Virginians.”
“Millions of dollars of the gas tax and other transportation funds go to support the port each year,” he said. “It is our collective responsibility to Virginia’s taxpayers to examine the pros and cons of continuing the current structure or seeking greater private sector involvement in the port. This is exactly what we have done with every other transportation function and we must do so in this case.”
The new proposal by Jones and Wagner will join a plethora of legislation aimed at slowing down the potential privatization of the port and giving the General Assembly a role in reviewing any proposal to sell or lease port facilities.
“As we consider if there is going to be disposition of this valuable asset of the commonwealth, the General Assembly certainly ought to participate and be an active partner in that consideration,” Norment said.