Supervisors mislead public about the budget.
April 8, 2002
By Arthur G. Purves
President, Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance
Madam Chairman and Members of the Board:
The Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance asks you to offset the 16 percent increase in residential assessments by setting the real estate tax rate at $1.06. Setting the rate at $1.06 is not a tax cut; it only prevents a tax increase.
Any rate above $1.06 is a tax increase.
The Taxpayer Alliance would also request that the supervisors change their first Budget Guideline, which now "limits" increases in expenditures to projected increases in revenues. The guideline should be changed to limit expenditure growth to the increase in population, inflation, and school enrollment. All revenues in excess of population growth and inflation should be returned to the taxpayer.
In 1999, I ran for chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. At that time, I asked if the incumbent chairman would raise taxes if re-elected. The answer I received was, "I do not foresee raising taxes after the next election."
In the two years since that statement was made, real estate taxes for the typical Fairfax County household have increased nearly $1000.
This is the largest increase in the 22 years for which the county government has reported real estate tax trends. In fact, even if you lowered the rate to $1.15, it would still be the largest tax hike in 22 years.
Keeping the rate at its current value of $1.23 is a $200 million tax increase. This is more than would be obtained from the Governor's proposed 11-percent sales-tax increase.
One might defend the $200 million increase if it were spent on the county's two greatest needs: transportation and school construction. However, there is no increase in school construction funding, which remains at $130 million. County transportation spending increases by only $2 million.
The supervisors and county administration try to cover up tax increases by misleading the voters. This begins at election time by denying that there will be increases after the election, and then announcing an increase right after the election.
Next, some board members mislead the citizens by claiming there's been no tax increase because the tax rate was not increased. The last time the tax rate increased was in 1997. Are you saying that we can pay the same tax today that we paid in 1997? Of course not. If anyone did that the Department of Tax Administration would slap him or her with a fine.
Next, you cry "wolf!" When the county executive presented the FY2003 budget to the board of supervisors, the supervisor from Providence stated that this was a "grim" budget year, referring to decreasing revenue from the state. Did he mean that total county revenues were decreasing? In fact, revenues are up. Did he mean that revenues were up but not enough to keep up with the 1.8 percent increase in population? No, revenues are increasing faster than population. Perhaps he meant that revenues were not keeping up with the combined 4.8 percent increase in inflation and population. No, revenues are increasing 7 percent. Apparently it is a grim budget unless revenues increase twice as fast as inflation and population.
The schools' FY2003 school budget increase is 9.2 percent, which is almost double the increase in enrollment and inflation.
Next, your "Citizen's Guide to the Budget" misleads the public about the size of the spending increase. It states that the spending increase over FY2002 is 4.95 percent, which is conveniently close to the increase in population and inflation. However, according to the "Guide", revenues are up seven percent. Why would spending increase five percent while revenues increase seven percent? The fact is when you close the books on FY2003, if revenues increase seven percent, spending will also increase seven percent.
Next, the county budget materials mislead the citizens by stating, "Only 96 net new positions have been added to the County's total position count since FY1991." What is left unstated is that in the 16 years before 1991, county staff increased three times faster than population.
Your deceptions are effective. Year after year you create the impression that the budget is barely keeping up with population and inflation. The facts are otherwise. This year's county budget has $1 billion more than needed to cover inflation, population, and school enrollment growth over the past 25 years.
In fact, if county spending had not exceeded inflation and population growth since 1975, you could have eliminated the real estate tax.
Over the past ten years the county has had billions more than needed for inflation and population. With that money you could have built the Dulles Metro, tunneled under Tysons Corner, and completely caught up school construction and renovations.
However, you have self-imposed policies that serve as excuses for not spending surplus revenues on infrastructure. The supervisors will not spend money on transportation because they say it is the state's responsibility. The school board limits school construction spending to bond sales.
So the taxpayers' reward for giving you an extra billion dollars a year is crowded roads and crowded schools. The billions have gone to adding frills to the school system, which has neglected the basics. Since 1975 school staff has increased four times faster than enrollment. Despite the increase, Fairfax County's average SAT score is still at the 65th percentile, a number the school administration does not publish. This SAT percentile contradicts the school superintendent's claim that ours is a "world class" school system.
At the county level, most of the extra revenue has gone to welfare.
At the county executive's budget press briefing, I pointed out that despite huge increases in funding the schools have not closed the minority student achievement gap. Despite big increases in subsidized childcare, the county has a childcare crisis. Despite an affordable housing program, we have an affordable housing crisis. The Community Services Board's budget has mushroomed in its efforts to deal with drug and alcohol abuse and mental health. I then asked the executive if he thought government programs could solve these problems. After a long silence, he answered, "We need to reach out more to the community."
In other words the school and welfare programs for which we are paying an extra $1000 in taxes are not working.
At these hearings last year, the room, which was packed with teachers, burst out in laughter three times when I suggested schools need phonics and that stay-at-home mothers were the best prevention against drugs and promiscuity.
The president of the Fairfax Education Association wrote a letter to the editor citing a National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, (Fletcher and Lyon, 1998) study to show that my advocacy of phonics ignores all current research.
Here's the sentence he quoted: "... no reading program is equally beneficial for all children."
Two sentences before the above quote, the study states the following:
The whole point of the study was to advocate phonics-based reading instruction as a complement to extensive literature content found in whole language. The FEA president misrepresented the study.
Moreover, I found on the FEA website a Washington Post article about a study from the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. It stated, in relation to drug prevention, "Parental involvement and religious activities are the two most effective protective factors for teens."
Your dealings with taxpayers are deceptive and your programs are not working.
Please set the tax rate at $1.06 and change your budget guidelines to return all revenues in excess of inflation and population growth to the taxpayer.
Updated April 8, 2002
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