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BY CHELYEN DAVIS
RICHMOND--By a single vote, the state Senate on Tuesday voted down a bill to give the state a weighted vote on the Virginia Railway Express board.
But the bill's demise could be temporary, said Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Stafford, the bill's sponsor.
The VRE Operations Board is made up of officials from Fredericksburg, Stafford, Spotsylvania, Prince William, Fairfax and Arlington and one state member, from the Department of Rail and Public Transportation.
Stuart's bill would give the chairman of the Commonwealth Transportation Board, or a designee, a spot on the VRE board. The new state representative's vote would be weighted, depending on how much state money goes to VRE in a given year.
"The fact that we give $25 million a year to this board, I think it's incumbent upon us to make sure that money is managed well," Stuart told the Senate on Tuesday. "It's not a power grab, it's not intended to [harm] them in any way."
The VRE board opposes Stuart's bill; when the bill was in a committee earlier in the session, VRE spokesman Mark Roeber said giving the state more control over the commuter rail service "changes the whole dynamic of the relationship" and opens the door to state control of other Virginia transit organizations.
Stuart said Tuesday that VRE will never like the bill, and has hired a lobbyist to work against it in the General Assembly.
Opponents of Stuart's bill said that giving more weight to the state's vote could affect VRE's bonding and other agreements, although Stuart said that wasn't the case. The regional authorities that founded VRE are responsible for repaying bonds used to purchase equipment and build stations.
Others were concerned about setting a precedent for state influence on transit boards.
"The problem with this weighted vote situation, there's a very delicate balance that exists there now," said Sen. Dave Marsden, D-Fairfax. "To have the state come in and put their thumb on the scales could be very disruptive. It's something we need to think about very carefully."