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D.C. Council Chair Decries Bill To Shrink Airports Board

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The Metropolitan Airports Authority board, which oversees Reagan National Airport, above, and Dulles International Airport, could get smaller under a new proposal from Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.).
Andrew Deci (http://www.flickr.com/photos/fredericksburg/2345835861/)
The Metropolitan Airports Authority board, which oversees Reagan National Airport, above, and Dulles International Airport, could get smaller under a new proposal from Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.).

As the D.C. Council takes up legislation this week to expand the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority board, Council Chairman Phil Mendelson is criticizing a Virginia lawmaker's recent proposal to shrink the board.

The bill, which is sponsored by Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.),  would shrink the airports authority board to just nine members from the current 13. D.C., Maryland, and the federal government would each get one seat and Virginia would get six spots.

It appears to be a change of course for Wolf, who sponsored a bill earlier this year to expand the board from 13 to 17 members. The D.C. Council has been poised to vote on the board's expansion because the airports authority is an interstate compact and changes to it require the states and the District to approve the bill as well. 

While the original expansion measure slightly dilutes the District's power on the board — two of the new members would be picked by Virginia while the District and Maryland only get one new seat — city leaders have signaled support for the expansion. 

But Wolf's newer bill is "a thumb in the eye" for the District, according to D.C. Council Chair Phil Mendelson.

"I think what the congressman has done with these successive bills is offensive to Maryland and the District," says Mendelson. "What's really going on, he wants to give Virginia two-thirds vote on the board instead of  regional parity. That's just offensive."

It's been a tumultuous few years at the airports authority board. There have been disagreements between Virginia and the authority over the use of union labor as wells as the expensive Silver Line project to Dulles International airport.

The latest issue was a series of ethical scandals this summer involving the board that has put MWAA under increased pressure. The U.S. Department of Transportation's Inspector General also issued a blistering report on the authority's weak oversight of contracting and financial disclosure rules. 

While the scandals have given ammunition to critics in Virginia who want to change the makeup of the board, Mendelson sees  more to the story.

"This campaign against MWAA  not to defend MWAA as being pure in all of this — it's trying to blow up the regional authority, really because Richmond cant get its act together to pay for its transportation projects," Mendelson says.  

Meanwhile, the District's latest appointment to the board, D.C. Chamber of Commerce president Barabara Lang, will face a confirmation vote tomorrow at the council. Lang is a close ally of Mayor Vincent Gray, but her nomination has been criticized by several labor groups.

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