There’s a fascinating – and important – fight going on right now in Fairfax County over how much taxes need to go up in order to pay for schools and other budget items. Last week, the Washington Post reported:
Fairfax County Executive Edward L. Long Jr. is recommending a tax increase for homeowners that would average $304 a year to cover a projected budget gap of about $93 million for the 2017 fiscal year.
The proposed increase — equal to about 4 cents per $100 of assessed value — was met with dismay by some supervisors and would fall about $68 million short of what Fairfax school officials are seeking in the budget, which probably means another bitter year of spending negotiations in Virginia’s largest county.
…the county school system is struggling to fund more English-instruction courses and more free-and-reduced lunches for a steadily growing population of 187,000 students that includes growing numbers of poor and immigrant children.
Local roads, parks and county buildings are worn, and pressure is mounting to begin implementing $35 million in changes to the county police department that were recommended by a specially appointed police commission.
Clearly, some officials – like Supervisor John Cook (R), for instance – don’t want to raise taxes at all, even as public school classrooms bulge at the seams and as teacher salaries in the county lag behind. Note that the public schools consume about half the Fairfax County budget. Also note that, as State Senator Scott Surovell (D-Mt. Vernon/Fairfax County) wrote yesterday, over the past seven years “the Commonwealth has increased funding to FCPS by over $200 million per year or 48%,” while “Fairfax County – who is responsible for 75% of FCPS’ funding – has increased its funding of FCPS by less than 15% and maintained a real estate tax rate that is 15% below Prince William and Loudoun Counties.” Sen. Surovell added his recommendation, that “The community cannot participate in a meaningful dialogue about funding our schools unless the County advertises a tax rate that allows for a discussion – they need to ADVERTISE A DIME.” That would be potentially up to an additional 10 cents per $100 of assessed value for homeowners, although of course advertising a rate simply sets a ceiling and doesn’t mean it will end up that high.
Anyway, I was struck by the fierce pushback from Fairfax County Supervisor Jeff McKay (D), who ripped Surovell (without naming him, even though it’s obvious who he’s talking about) on Facebook. Among other things, McKay charged that Surovell is attempting to “pawn off responsibilities and allow chronic state underfunding of FCPS to continue by placing the burden COMPLETELY on county taxpayers.” I commented on McKay’s page that the General Assembly is controlled by Republicans, and there’s no way they’re going to come to the rescue of Fairfax County. McKay’s response was that “there are Democrats who are givimg away our proffer authority and putting in huge unfunded mandate bills on our schools.” McKay further charged that Surovell is “fudging numbers to make it appear that the state is doing its job,” that Surovell is “giving out false data and advocating for a recordbreaking, unprecedented tax increase in regressive real estate taxes using a made up number,” and that this “extremism is one of the reasons the GA never makes any progress.”
Wow, talk about hitting a raw nerve. I mean, clearly tax rates are a super-sensitive issue politically. But however overheated/over the top the rhetoric gets, it doesn’t change the fact that Fairfax County needs more revenue – how much more and where it should come from are the real questions. Heated rhetoric also doesn’t change the fact that GOP-controlled Virginia General Assembly isn’t going to leap to deep-blue Fairfax’s rescue, and that if this is what McKay’s counting on, frankly he’s dreaming.