|The FY20 proposed budget for Fairfax County fails to speak our values around affordable and workforce housing, employee compensation, climate change, and early childhood education.
Our county budget is an expression of our values couched in economic realities. The FY20 proposed budget for Fairfax County was released yesterday. I applaud the county for fully funding our public schools (which includes teacher pay raises), funding the Diversion First program, increasing funding to key homeless shelters, and prioritizing our response to the opioid epidemic. However, the county budget fails to speak our values around affordable and workforce housing, employee compensation, climate change, and early childhood education.Ignoring the Affordable & Workforce Housing CrisisEvery Fairfax County resident—no matter age, ability, income, or race—deserves the opportunity to live somewhere affordable, convenient, and safe. But housing development has not kept pace with job growth in the county. People who work here cannot afford to live here. The county is not sufficiently addressing its affordable and workforce housing crisis.The Penny for Affordable Housing Fund is not a penny fund, but a “Half-Penny” Fund. The FY20 budget also decreases funding to Elderly Housing Programs by 8.68% from FY19. Our aging residents should be able to age in place. Affordable and workforce housing is a values issue but it is also an economic issue. The county’s current approach to housing is not sustainable for economic growth—businesses need an accessible workforce to do business here.
Failing County Employees
The county budget is being balanced on the backs of our employees. Our county employees were promised a 2.51% market rate adjustment but are receiving 1%. What is a “market rate adjustment”? It’s a cost of living adjustment. As it gets increasingly more expensive to live and work in our county, we shouldn’t use our employees’ cost of living adjustments to balance the county budget.
Failing to Take Action on Climate Change
Fairfax County has failed to develop a county-wide action plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the private sector, which is the source of 97 percent of the county’s greenhouse gas emissions. The county adopted a vision statement on the environment in 2017, with no strategic, county-wide action. In sum, the county’s budget reflects a rhetoric-without-action approach. It is no longer be acceptable given the essential threat of climate change.
Among other concerns, the county budget rejects the recommendation of its Environmental Quality Advisory Council to increase the Stormwater Service District rate a quarter of a penny from $3.25 to $3.50 (per 100 assessed real estate value). The EQAC recommended this rate increase because the county’s ongoing stormwater program, which includes dam maintenance, infrastructure replacement, water resource monitoring and management, watershed restoration and educational stewardship programs, is inadequately funded.
Kicking the Can Down the Road on Early Childhood Education
Education is the foundation of our thriving, economically vibrant county. But without widely available preschool education, we are setting some children up for failure before they have even begun kindergarten. Students who have not been in preschool arrive at kindergarten with a significant learning disadvantage when compared to children who have attended preschool programs. Our schools then often spend enormous sums and many years struggling to close this achievement gap with limited successes. These educational achievement gaps often track with socioeconomic gaps making this reality much more of a gap in access to a quality eduction, or an “opportunity gap.” This fundamental inequity in access has economic consequences, and the long-term economic benefits of early childhood education are clear.
A well-educated community is a boon to industry of all kinds. The county budget fails to recognize this. Instead it directs (SCYPT) Successful Children and Youth Policy Team to propose a “5 Plus Year Plan” for expansion of the early childhood services. The languid proposed timeline for universal preschool makes it apparent that the county does not consider this a priority, and this highlights a fundamental misunderstanding about the relationship between a well-educated community, at all socioeconomic levels, and the economic health of the community.
Fairfax County must remain fiscally responsible in accounting for our taxpayers’ dollars, but we cannot continue the status quo in which the county ignores the investments needed to improve the quality of life for many of our residents and to assure a vibrant economic future.