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2000-04-03 FY2001 County Budget

Comments to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Regarding the Advertised FY2001 County Budget

By Arthur G. Purves
President, Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance
April 3, 2000

Madam Chairman and Members of the Board:

Good evening.

Last year, as an Independent candidate for chairman of the Board of Supervisors, I stated on the front of my campaign flier that if the Democrats retained control of the board, they would vote for a tax increase on April 24, 2000. I based my prediction on what occurred after the supervisors' election four years ago. Unfortunately, my prediction was correct.

The Board's strategy, apparently, is to raise taxes immediately after an election and then hope that the electorate will forget the increase before the next election. The proposed increase in residential real estate taxes for the typical household is about five times larger than the average tax increase for the three years prior to the election.

When combined with personal property, sales, and utility taxes, county taxes for the typical Fairfax County household will reach a record high next year. Governor Gilmore did not eliminate the personal property tax. We are still being taxed on the value of our cars, and the county's personal property revenues next year will also reach a record high.

Nevertheless, before the election whenever the press asked about a post-election tax increase, the supervisors denied any intent to do so. Last April one supervisor told the Connection newspapers, "… I do not foresee a real-estate tax increase next year." Another supervisor told the Times Community newspapers last October that a post-election tax increase was "pure fiction" and a "fairy tale." As recently as December 20, a supervisor stated that the board "… will not have to raise taxes to balance the budget this spring."

The same thing happened four years ago. On the Saturday before the 1995 supervisors' election an incumbent supervisor stated in the Washington Post that taxes would probably not be raised after the election. A month later the same supervisor announced a tax increase.

The tax increase four years ago was precipitated by the previous school superintendent, who announced just one week after the election, a major increase in the school budget. To prevent a reoccurrence of this, I wrote the current Superintendent a letter asking him to announce the school budget increase before the election. In his response, dated October 21, 1999, he stated that it was "impossible" to give me an answer. Then, one month after the election, the Superintendent announced a budget increase that was $75 million more than the supervisors could provide without a tax increase.

I tried to attend the Superintendent's budget press conference to ask him why he could not have predicted such a large increase two months earlier. However, the schools' Office of Community Relations prevented me by having me arrested, frisked, handcuffed, and charging me with trespassing, a criminal offense that carries a maximum penalty of $2500 and a year in jail. In contrast I was permitted to attend the County Executive's budget press conference.

Of course the Superintendent knew before the election that he was going to ask for a large increase. There were no sudden changes in the school or county budgets after the election. In the April, 2000, FamilyGram, the Superintendent himself stated that what he calls the schools' "structural deficit" is "…NOT just a one-year situation" (emphasis in the original).

The superintendent faults Virginia for ranking 49th among the 50 states in education funding. More state funding is not needed. FCPS per-student spending has increased much faster than enrollment and inflation. Since 1975 per-student spending in Fairfax County Schools increased 100 percent, adjusted for inflation, and that over the same period there was no significant increase in student achievement. Fairfax County Public Schools has proven that more spending does not improve schools. During the current fiscal year, per student spending is increasing 12 percent, more than four times faster than inflation. The schools claim they need another $56 million. However, for the last three years the schools' ending balance has been more than $60 million.

Since 1975, both school-based and non-school based administration has increased four times faster than enrollment. The number of guidance counselors, psychologists, and social workers has increased seven times faster than enrollment. An enormous investment in computers has not raised achievement. The seven-period day, which costs and extra $30 million per year, dilutes the efforts of students struggling to pass SOL tests. The Superintendent wants money for unproven programs. The "Success by Eight Year One Interim Report" states, "The data from Year 1 provide early, but not conclusive insights about how the Success by Eight initiative is progressing…" (p. 28). The "High School Academies Evaluation Interim Draft Report" states, "… it would be premature to draw conclusions about the long-term benefits of the academy programs" (p. 4). A study of the 15-1 first grade reading program found no significant benefits after the fourth grade. The MGT workload study recommended an increase in clerical staff but did not analyze why the clerical workload is increasing. The average SAT score for Fairfax County Public School seniors is at the 65th percentile, a number that the school system does not publish. A December, 1994, Fairfax County Public Schools Study, "Securing Our Students' Future in a High-Tech Global Economy" suggests that only about half of the FCPS graduates who attend four-year colleges graduate from college, which is the national and state average. FCPS has never offered any evidence that its graduates perform better than the national average.

County spending has also increased faster than population and inflation. However, it is more difficult to analyze because the county has not reported the funding of programs that have grown faster than population and inflation, especially during the 80s.

Apparently the school superintendent did not feel he could defend a tax increase before the election. The Board of Supervisors should therefore not feel obligated to fund the enormous school budget increase.

However, the supervisors did state before the election that there would not be a tax increase. The supervisors should keep their word and reduce the real-estate tax rate to compensate for the increase in assessments. The supervisors should also report to the taxpayers which county programs are growing faster than population and inflation and why.

Thank you.

Updated June 19, 2001

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