The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.
News came out yesterday that Treasurer Frank O’Leary and Commissioner of the Revenue Ingrid Morroy joined Patrick Hope and Alan Howze in calling for a referendum on the Columbia Pike trolley.
Hope and Howze are trying to get attention in races for this year. Hope is looking for an advantage in a crowded June congressional primary. And Howze is trying to regain footing after his blowout special election loss one month ago.
Both Hope and Howze say they still support the project. They claim that if Arlingtonians only knew more about the benefits of the trolley, they would vote for it in a referendum.
Herein lies the problem with the tepid support for a referendum from Howze and Hope. People do not support the project, and already know plenty about it to make an informed vote.
The $1 million bus stop is a precursor for the trolley stops. That is why the pricey, open air, will probably not keep you dry in the rain even with the new design, structures are being built. The fact that the price will drop by half is of little consolation to Arlingtonians. We are still left to wonder why it costs so much to build so little. And, we rightly question the wisdom of building a fixed rail system to what could ultimately cost half a billion dollars and do nothing to improve traffic conditions along the corridor.
If the County Board puts the Columbia Pike trolley, in a straight up or down fashion, on the ballot this fall, voters will almost certainly reject it. And, voters would almost certainly reject any candidate for County Board who actively campaigns for it.
Morroy and O’Leary are more interesting case studies as they have suddenly gone public on a referendum. Many believe this is O’Leary’s last term in office, and Morroy is not up for election again until the fall of 2015.
Best guess is that they have both long held doubts about the wisdom of spending taxpayer dollars on the project. Now that two other elected Democrats broke the ice, the two officials who are caretakers of our public funds here in Arlington have the political cover to take a position counter to the slim pro-trolley majority on the Board.
In the final analysis, most of those who track the trolley believe the Board has no intention to fund the project with general obligation bonds. If so, the Board can move forward without a public vote. A referendum then, would be on a token amount of money and would hold no real power to stop the project. Only the fear of public backlash at the ballot box in future elections would stop the Board from moving forward.
After April 8, it is now a very real fear. And, it is starting to show.
Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.