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Nov
2014
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Misleader in the Polls: Comstock’s Project Labor Agreement Hate Turns Into Fact Fudging

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And the partisan bickering over the Dulles Metrorail expansion continues.
The race for Virginia’s 10th congressional district is offering up yet another chapter in the never-ending saga of the Silver Line and its economic impact. (See our previous coverage of this issue here, here, here, and here.)

On October 13th, Susan Falconer, campaign manager for Republican candidate Barbara Comstock, accused Democratic opponent John Foust of “shilling for his union boss cronies who got him to oppose Delegate Comstock’s right to work and competitive bidding legislation even though it has saved taxpayers $400 million.” That $400 million figure has been a key talking point for Comstock, who proudly touts her role as author of legislation that prevented state agencies from requiring Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) as part of state assisted construction contracts.

But is it true? Did she really save tax payers $400 million?

The Washington Post recently took a look at the story behind that number, and called the claim exaggerated:

Originally, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority estimated that the Phase 2 project would cost $3.8 billion, but then the estimate in 2012 was reduced to $2.7 billion by eliminating an underground parking garage, having Fairfax and Loudoun counties build parking garages and other changes.

The portion of the project that would been subject to bidding was originally estimated to cost between $1.4 billion and $1.6 billion, according to the MWAA. When the bids came in, the winning team out of five bidders was awarded a contract for $1.18 billion.

At first blush, that actually does sound like some $400 million in savings. But where did those savings come from?

The problem is that Comstock cannot point to any evidence that the lower bid was the result of her law. Indeed, the next highest bid was just 1.2 percent higher, for a difference of about $14 million. The losing bidder was Bechtel, which had held the contract for the first phase of the project.

Patrick Dean, president of the Northern Virginia branch of the Associated Builders and Contractors, Inc. says that studies produced by the trade association have found that PLAs add about 15 percent to the cost of the contract. Thus, by his math, Comstock’s law resulted in a savings of about $225 million.

But ABC’s studies have come under attack from pro-labor groups as being deeply flawed. A 2009 study done for the Department of Veterans Affairs found considerable range in the impact of PLAs, depending on the strength of labor unions in an area, so the impact ranged from cost-neutral to as high as 9 percent. So that would mean a savings of just $140 million — or much less.

The notion that her legislation offered taxpayers any quantifiable savings is merely conjecture. As The Post put it, “Comstock needs to tone down her claim.”

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