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1998-09-28 Supervisors' proposed salary increase

Comments to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Regarding the proposed supervisors' pay increase

By Arthur G. Purves
President, Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance
September 28, 1998

Madam Chairman and Members of the Board:

Good evening. My name is Arthur Purves. I'm speaking to you as president of the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance.

The Taxpayers Alliance opposes increasing the supervisors' salary from the current amount of $45,000 to the proposed amount of $59,000, even if the increase isn't phased in until 2003.

The Taxpayers Alliance also opposes making the supervisors' job full-time.

Between 1987 and 1991, the supervisors' salary increased from $21,589 to the current amount of $45,000. Even after adjusting for inflation the supervisors' salary without the proposed increase would still be 30% larger in 2003 than it was in 1987. With the proposed increase, the supervisors' salary would increase 70% since 1987.

If a supervisor believes his salary is too small, a good solution is to not run for reelection. Low salaries are intended to keep elected officials from serving too long. If an elected official serves too long, there is the possibility that he will tend to represent the special interests that contribute heavily to elections - developers, big business, and unions - instead of the people. New board members will identify more with the average citizen.

If a supervisor does resign and no one is willing to run to fill the vacancy, that might be a compelling argument for higher supervisor salaries. However, that has not happened yet.

It is claimed that low supervisor salaries discourage qualified candidates from running for election. However, there may be other impediments such as the high cost of a campaign or the overwhelming odds against defeating an incumbent. If the supervisors desire to encourage more people to run for office, then incumbents should pledge to spend only $5,000 on their campaign instead of $100,000.

Instead of seeking larger salaries, the Board of Supervisors should seek to make their jobs - and government - smaller and more efficient.

For example, much of the supervisors' time is spent considering zoning changes for developers. There is a perception that supervisors approve zoning changes to the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan to accommodate developers who contribute heavily to election campaigns. The supervisors could restrain the excessive development in the County and reduce their workload by allowing fewer exceptions to the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan.

Rather than simplify government though, the supervisors are seeking to expand it. Consider the Lorton incinerator. Instead of lowering tipping fees to attract trash haulers to use the Lorton incinerator, the supervisors are considering taking over trash collection from the private sector, then franchising the business back to the private sector, and then requiring that the trash collected be hauled to the incinerator. Rather than increase government's role in a private sector activity, the supervisors should simply lower the tipping fees.

In fact, why is the County even in the trash collection business? One of the reasons the supervisors' jobs are so demanding is that the County competes with the private sector.

Another example is recreation centers. Why spend bond money on recreation centers to compete with private gyms and swimming clubs? Wouldn't the money be better spent on transportation?

Another example of competition with the private sector is the 122 taxpayer-subsidized School Age Child Care Centers. Subsidies for low-income families are not the issue here. Families that pay the full fee are subsidized too. Their fees do not cover utilities and maintenance. It's not clear if their fees cover construction. Is it fair for government to compete with private caregivers? Is it fair to tax married couples in which the mother stays home to tend to her children in order to subsidize families where both parents work?

This raises the larger issue of the County's Health and Welfare spending. During the late 70s and 80s, County taxes and spending increased twice as fast as inflation and population. Because of these increases, the average household pays an extra $2000 per year in County taxes and the average business pays an extra $4000 per year. The County government collects an extra $900 million per year, of which $600 million goes to public schools and $300 million goes to County government. Over a year ago, the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance wrote the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors and asked for a complete list of all programs that had grown faster than population and inflation since 1975 and their cost. The Chairman refused to provide the list. The Taxpayers Alliance made the same request of the Chairman of the Fairfax County School Board, who did provide such a list.

The result is that the supervisors spend an extra $300 million per year but will not tell the taxpayers of Fairfax County where it's spent.

Therefore, the Taxpayers Alliance did its own analysis of how the extra $300 million is spent. We published the analysis in our summer newsletter, which is posted on the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance website, What we found is that of the extra $300 million, the largest portion - $160 million - went not to parks, not to public works, not to transportation, but to health and welfare.

We wonder if the supervisors monitor the effectiveness of welfare spending. For example, several years ago I attended a public school pyramid meeting on adolescent drug use. The speaker was the instructor of a County substance abuse course that students suspended for drug use are required to attend. The audience listened, aghast, as the speaker described children's ingenuity in hiding their drug use from parents. However, when we asked him how to prevent adolescent drug use, he had no answers.

Head Start is another example. There is ample evidence that the benefits of Head Start wear off by fourth grade. Is it good government to fund programs that give the appearance of helping but actually do not?

Another example of government excess is the proposed County bond referendum to expand the judicial center to meet estimated needs for the year 2010. The County's population estimates forecast a 20% increase in county population between 1995 and 2010. However, the developer's master plan for the $90 million courthouse expansion projects a 40% increase in the number of judges. In contrast, between 1980 and 1995, the number of judges increased at about the same rate as population. Why does the County now expect the number of judges in increase twice as fast as population, especially when crime rates are declining?

This leads to another simplification. Stop holding bond referenda and fund capital improvements out of operating budgets. Bonds are appropriate for infrequent major projects. However, the County sells bonds every year to meet annual expenses. The County is like a homeowner that buys a new mortgage each year. The inevitable result is that county debt service now exceeds the revenue raised from bond sales. Between 1994 -1998, the County spent $90 million more on debt service than it raised in bond sales.

The County is not paying the supervisors too little; the supervisors are doing too much. Do not make your salaries bigger; make government smaller.

Thank you.