Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli on Wednesday reversed his office's position on legislation involving the use of union labor on the Dulles Metrorail project, telling lawmakers that they could cut off $150 million in state funding for the project if the board overseeing construction continues to encourage the use of union labor.
Cuccinelli's announcement contradicts the declaration his office issued earlier this week when it told Virginia lawmakers they lacked the authority to set rules for the regional Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.
Cuccinelli reversed course after upset Republican lawmakers and Gov. Bob McDonnell's administration bristled at the attorney general's claim that they couldn't enforce the legislation against an airports authority that they said was violating Virginia's right-to-work laws by encouraging the contractors on the $6 billion rail project to use union labor.
Cuccinelli called Sen. Dick Black, R-Loudoun County, Wednesday to tell him that the Attorney General's Office had been wrong when it advised Black that he and his allies couldn't enforce the new rules they'd approved.
Cuccinelli's office later denied that it was even changing positions, saying it never issued a formal legal opinion on the legislation. The information passed on to Black earlier this week was just a mistake, the office said.
"We have NOT issued an opinion on this yet, AND we have NEVER changed our position on [the Dulles funding bill]. That is just not correct," Cuccinelli's spokesman Brian Gottstein said in an email.
The bill, which passed the General Assembly and awaits McDonnell's signature, would withhold $150 million in state funding for the Dulles project unless the airports authority stops encouraging contractors bidding on the second phase of the project to use union labor.
The airports authority dropped an earlier plan to require contractors to use union labor, but said it would give union contractors an edge in the bidding process over their non-union counterparts, many of whom are based in Virginia.
"What you have now in place is MWAA treating bidders differently," said Thelma Drake, director of the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation. "The bottom line is: If there is a [union-friendly labor agreement] in place, or if this preferential treatment remains in place, there will be no additional state money."
The airports authority said that if Virginia fails to fund the project, drivers on the Dulles Toll Road would have to pay even higher fees to make up the difference.