Friday, May 22, 2015
20 million down, need another billion to finish it.
When I drive by the new unfinished VA facility in Aurora, I can no help to wonder what they were thinking. There is and was zero chance of building the facility for 328 million. The problem, it needs to be finished. Do we walk away and lose 880 million spent already or dump another billion into the project?
p.s. That doesn't include the equipment and furnishings in the building.
WASHINGTON — With only hours left to seal a deal, the U.S. House on Thursday passed legislation that would keep work going temporarily on a troubled VA hospital in Aurora that has seen its price tag balloon to $1.73 billion.
The measure passed by unanimous consent after less than 15 minutes of floor debate, an anticlimactic end to a flurry of negotiations in the lower chamber.
The bill now heads to the Senate, where supporters are hopeful — although not overconfident — it can pass in a similar fashion before the project hits a critical deadline this weekend.
As of 7 p.m. Eastern, the Senate had yet to agree to the bill.
Under the agreement, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and Kiewit-Turner, the prime contractor for the project, would be allowed to spend about $20 million more on the Aurora facility. The extra cash is critical because the VA project is set to hit its spending cap next week — which would stop work at the site.
Congressional sources said the $20 million would be enough to continue work at the Aurora site for about three weeks. That gives lawmakers and the administration a little breathing room to hash out a long-term funding deal.
The two sides have been deadlocked for weeks on how to pay for cost overruns at the hospital campus. The VA has said it needs $830 million to finish it
The bill's rapid-fire passage in the House comes less than 24 hours after congressional leaders predicted the Aurora project was at risk of shutting down.
On Wednesday, House Speaker John Boehner ripped into the agency in a floor speech — a move Colorado lawmakers saw as a potential deal-killer for the hospital.
His rhetoric had faded some by Thursday morning, however, and Boehner issued a statement late in the day that talked about giving the VA a "chance to get its act together."
"Since VA leaders are clearly not willing to step up, the House is stepping in and allowing the project to go forward in the short-term using resources the VA already has," Boehner said. "Now the VA must lay out a long-term plan for completing the hospital responsibly using existing resources. This is more than fair."
For days, members of Colorado's congressional delegation said the biggest hurdle to getting a short-term deal was opposition among House leadership.
How exactly the delegation got Boehner to go from "no" to "yes" is unclear, although lawmakers and staffers described an all-out effort from local lawmakers.
U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner — a former House member — walked over to the lower chamber Wednesday night to personally lobby the Republican leadership team.
Meanwhile, his Democratic counterpart, Michael Bennet, reached out to the White House, and U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman, R-Aurora, made a final pitch to Boehner's staff Thursday morning.
Included in that pitch was a letter penned by Kiewit-Turner that warned of the potential cost of a work stoppage. Company executives wrote that a shutdown could add as much as $200 million to the $1.73 billion price tag and push its opening "well into 2018."
Kiewit-Turner estimated it would cost $50 million to $75 million to demobilize and remobilize the site in case of a shutdown. Worse, they wrote, would be the potential loss of subcontractors — an expense that could run as high as $125 million.
"Considering the strength of the current construction market in Denver, if another shutdown occurs, we believe many subcontractors may terminate their subcontracts and instead pursue other projects," noted Scott Cassels, president of Kiewit Infrastructure Group, and Peter J. Davoren, president and CEO of Turner Construction Co.
Work at the site was suspended in December because of a rift between the VA and Kiewit-Turner.
But even if the Senate agrees to the short-term measure, it doesn't mean the drama is over.
As soon as Congress returns from its Memorial Day recess, the clock will start ticking again on the need to find a way to fund the Aurora project to its completion.
Considering the entrenched positions of the VA and Congress — and the often-heated attacks between the sides — there remains the possibility of another short-term punt.
Speaking to that point, U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Golden, said he was happy Congress was working to avoid a shutdown, but that he was generally irked at the whole situation.
"I am not pleased it is only a two- to three-week window and that we are only kicking the can down the road at the expense of veterans and construction workers out there," he said.