Virginia Taxpayer’s Association President Kenneth White

A decision by the Virginia Department of Transportation to lease the Pocahontas Parkway to an Australian investment consortium is drawing sharp criticism from opponents of public-private partnerships promoted by the Federal Highway Administration.

The VDOT signed a comprehensive agreement June 29, 2006, to lease the 8.8 mile Pocahontas Parkway toll road for 99-years to Transurban, an Australian investment consortium, for a one-time payment of $548 million and an agreement to construct a 1.58 mile, four-lane extension to Richmond International Airport.

The extension of the Pocahontas Parkway is pending a decision of the of the U.S. Department of Transportation to provide a $150 million construction credit to Transurban under the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, or TIFIA.

Kenneth White, president of the Virginia Taxpayers Association, testified Monday before the Virginia House and Senate Joint Budget Committees he objected that the VDOT had paid a $2,000 fee, plus expenses, for Barbara Reese, VDOT’s chief financial officer, to attend a September 2006 conference by EuroMoney Seminars at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City.

WND previously reported EuroMoney Seminars, a UK-based company, intends to hold a seminar in Miami March 19-21 entitled “PPP: The North American Private Partnerships Intensive Seminar,” designed to teach a small number of state and local government officials how to lease a wide range of public assets – including highways and water departments – to international and foreign private investment groups. The cost of attending the March 2007 EuroMoney seminar in Miami is $3,500 per person.

White, who has led his group for 34 years, objected to the Virginia congressional committees that Reese “was a programmed speaker at an unpublicized conference, the unlawful purpose of which was to expedite selling highways in Virginia and elsewhere in the United States to private commercial interests, many of them foreign.”

In an e-mail to WND, Jeff Caldwell, VDOT assistant director of Public Affairs explained:

Barbara Reese is recognized nationally as an expert in public-private transportation financing as well as other innovative financing methods. Ms. Reese served on a panel at the September 2000 EuroMoney’s North American PPP 2006 conference on infrastructure, along with other government experts from around the country. Ms. Reese did not pay any conference registration fee. Travel costs totaled $581 in accordance with state guidelines.

White told WND his group objects to VDOT using state funds to send any VDOT employee to the planned March 2007 EuroMoney seminar in Miami, even if the expenses were limited to travel, hotel and meals.

The Virginia Taxpayers Association’s fundamental objection is that the VDOT has no right to lease to foreign interests state highways built with taxpayer money. White made this claim in his testimony to the Virginia House and Senate Budget Committees:

Virginia citizens were not told that the Pocahontas Parkway – which last June was leased to Transurban of Australia for 99 years – would be an opening wedge for a wholesale foreign consortium takeover of major U.S. interstates, under the NAFTA Superhighway System, with several south-north Mexico to Canada corridors, where foreigners would levy tolls without review by any U.S. elected officials and would even have eminent domain to grab millions of acres of valuable farm and urban land for the corridors.

Virginia is celebrating its 400th birthday this year – the Jamestown settlement, from which Pocahontas became famous, was founded in 1607.

The Virginia Taxpayers Association contends it is “clearly unlawful for any state government, as a separate entity, to take money from the sale of highways which have been fully paid for by, and which belong to, state and federal taxpayers, and not to the state government itself.”

The Federal Highway Administration currently features the Pocahontas Parkway lease as a case study on its newly created website promoting what is becoming widely known within international investment banking as “PPP,” or “Public-Private Partnerships.”

The FHWA website provides detailed “how-to” information for state legislators and department of transportation to follow in making decisions to lease state highways to foreign investment groups.

White’s testimony also supported Senate Joint Resolution No. 387, which has been introduced into the Virginia Senate by state Sen. Roscoe Reynolds. The resolution calls on the Virginia General Assembly to oppose any connections with Virginia highways that may be made in connecting a NAFTA Superhighway corridor through Virginia.

Reynolds’ resolution also specifies support for H.C.R. 487, which was introduced by U.S. Rep. Virgil Goode, R-Va., to the House of Representatives in the previous Congress, calling for the House to oppose both NAFTA Superhighways and the creation of a North American Union.

As reported by WND, the resolution was co-sponsored by Reps. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo.; Ron Paul, R-Texas; and Walter Jones, R-N.C. WND also has reported Goode is preparing to re-introduce the resolution to the new Congress.

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