Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

April 2, 2013

Train derailment? Private sector key to two-state vision

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— irginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s decision to veto legislation re-establishing the Tourist Train Development Authority shouldn’t be viewed as the end of a 26-year-old dream to develop a two-state tourist train.

However, in this age of budget cuts and belt-tightening, it is difficult to fault McDonnell for his decision. In announcing his veto of the train authority, McDonnell correctly notes the importance of reducing the size and scope of state government — particularly when the private sector can achieve the same goals without government action.

And considering the number of challenges facing the Commonwealth of Virginia, coming up with state funding to finance a tourist train wouldn’t be easy. And in his veto of the bill, McDonnell correctly points to the need for project organizers to secure funding for the tourist train through private organizations and donations.

The General Assembly originally created the Tourist Train Development Authority in 2000 with a vision of developing a train in Pocahontas and Bluefield, Va., and in cooperation with localities in neighboring West Virginia.

“There has been no investment to procure a train to make this a reality,” McDonnell said in his veto explanation. “During the 2011 session of the General Assembly, the Tourist Train Development Authority and its board were repealed because there had been no resulting activity from the board. “

Supporters of the project, who believe that a two-state tourist train would be a major draw to the region, were understandably upset with McDonnell’s decision. “This is an authority that hasn’t cost government a penny,” David Smith, president of Historic Pocahontas Inc., said last week. “There hasn’t been any state or federal money spent on it.”

Sen. Senator Phillip P. Puckett, D-Russell, said McDonnell called him to tell him that he vetoed the bill.

“I’m disappointed by the governor’s veto, but I don’t think there’s anything we can do about it now,” Puckett said last week. “It passed in the House and Senate without much negative comment. I don’t think we have enough votes to override the governor’s veto.”

Puckett is correct. There is little state lawmakers can do at the moment as it relates to the governor’s veto and the train authority. However, tourist train enthusiasts in both Virginias who have worked on this vision since 1987 shouldn’t view the governor’s veto as a defeat.

They should, in fact, follow McDonnell’s advice. Pursuing private sector funding, including area foundations and contributions from private citizens and businesses, is the correct route for this project.

Sadly, in this day and age of skyrocketing deficits, federal earmark bans and budget shortfalls, the state and federal government simply can’t be expected to fund every project that is on the table. That’s why the private sector must now be willing to step up and decide if this 26-year-old dream is to become a reality.

Virginia lawmakers, and McDonnell, have shown a willingness to work with private-sector partners on public-private ventures such as the Coalfields Expressway. That’s why strong private partners — and funding assistance from the private sector — would make the tourist train a stronger and more viable vision.