Using tax dollars to destroy families
April 7, 2003
By Arthur G. Purves
President, Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance
Madam Chairman and Members of the Board:
[Note: The speakers immediately preceding Mr. Purves spoke in favor of full funding for the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority.]
I would like to deviate from my prepared remarks to respectfully make some dissenting observations about the Fairfax County Economic Authority (EDA).
First, the EDA may bear some responsibility for the current glut of unused office space by having attracted to the county businesses that were not robust enough to survive the collapse of the "dot-com" bubble.
Second, the EDA claims that it is good for the residential taxpayer because tax revenues from the businesses it attracts relieve the residential tax burden. This is false. During the 1980s, commercial taxes soared as businesses moved to the county. However, residential taxes were not reduced. Instead, the size of Fairfax County government exploded, with county staff growing three times faster than county population between 1975 and 1991. This growth was fueled in large measure by the surge in commercial tax revenues.
Third, the EDA holds the revenue bonds for the Herrity and Pennino Buildings. Revenue bonds, which are not subject to a voter referendum, are typically paid for by fees earned by a government enterprise, such as tolls from toll roads or entrance fees from parks. What fees does the EDA earn? None. The bonds are paid for by a transfer to the EDA from the county's tax-supported general fund. This is an abuse of revenue bonds. Tax-supported bonds are supposed to be "general obligation" bonds that require a referendum.
I will now proceed with my prepared remarks.
Since it was elected four years ago, this board has raised the real estate tax bill of the typical Fairfax County household by $1000. This occurred because while assessments increased an average of sixty percent, the board made only token changes in the tax rate, by changing it from $1.23 to perhaps $1.16.
The tax rate that fully offsets the sixty percent increase in assessments is 76 cents. Any tax rate higher than 76 cents means that the typical homeowner will be paying higher real estate taxes than they did when the supervisors were elected in 1999.
Prominent members of this board, during the 1999 campaign for the Board of Supervisors election explicitly stated that they did not plan to raise taxes after the election.
Nonetheless, taxes increased. Fairfax County real estate taxes paid by the typical household are at an all-time high. County spending per resident, even when adjusted for inflation, is at a record high. Fairfax County Public Schools spending per student is at an all-time high. School staff is increasing three times faster than enrollment. While the growth in county staff has been restrained during the 13 years since 1991, in the 15 years prior to 1991 county staff increased three times faster than overall population growth.
Government has gotten bigger. Has it gotten better?
We are paying higher taxes for crowded roads and schools. Despite record increases in school spending, class size has increased.
Most county tax increases are spent on social programs — public schools, public safety, and welfare. Many of these social programs not only do not work, but they may be harmful.
Consider an analogy.
Before the Civil War, it was illegal to teach a slave to read. Just the ability to read, it was thought, would empower an individual to become independent. Also the families of slaves were broken up at the auction block.
Today, we are still not teaching our low-income children to read. This is because our public schools resist phonics-based reading instruction. During my testimony to this board in previous years, the board has witnessed the disdain the Fairfax Education Association has for phonics. When I spoke in favor of phonics, the Fairfax Education Association members assembled in this auditorium broke out into such raucous laughter that board members had to call the teachers to order.
The result of the schools’ flawed curriculum is that children from homes that cannot read leave the school system still unable to read. The ability to read is as necessary for independence in the information age as it was before the Civil War.
The recent passing of former Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan has brought forth in the press renewed discussion of how the welfare state destroys low-income families. Prior to the massive welfare spending introduced by President Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, the percentage of African-American children born out of wedlock was about 20 percent. Today it is 65 percent. That is what "compassionate" welfare has done.
Children from single-parent welfare families are at high-risk for poverty, poor achievement in school, and jail. In some low-income neighborhoods there is no longer a stigma associated with going to jail, because almost everyone goes there.
Even after welfare reform, there is still an economic incentive for a low-income woman to have children out-of-wedlock. She gets subsidized housing, subsidized food, subsidized childcare, and subsidized medical care. Two-thirds of Virginia’s Medicaid recipients are welfare mothers.
The welfare state’s tragic message to the low-income father is that he is not needed — not needed to provide food or shelter to his child. The government will do the fathering for him.
Before the Civil War, a slave family was destroyed at the auction block. Today, the low-income family is destroyed by the welfare subsidy.
The chronic minority student achievement gap tragically proves that the public schools will not give low-income children the education requisite for economic opportunity.
Despite massive increases in school spending, achievement, especially for low-income students, is low. Despite a major investment in childcare, there is a childcare shortage. Despite a major investment in subsidized housing, there is a shortage of low-income housing. The mounting Community Services Board budget suggests that drug abuse and mental health problems are often consequences of poverty. Over the past two decades, the county jail population has increased much faster than overall population. This also raises the question of whether the inmates are casualties of the welfare state.
These programs drive the annual tax increases. Rather than solving problems, our taxes through these programs are subsidizing problems.
We get what we subsidize. If we subsidize out-of-wedlock births, that is what we will, and have been, getting. Is welfare really compassionate, or is it trapping our most vulnerable citizens in dependency?
The Taxpayers Alliance’s question to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is, "Are the public school and welfare system solving problems or subsidizing them?" Government cannot solve people’s problems better than the people themselves can.
If the board concludes that the county is subsidizing the destruction of low-income families, then there is a need to change policies. We need to tell the low-income male that his children need him and that he can parent better than the government can. Low-income women have children out-of-wedlock because they want to, and they want to because, under the welfare system, it makes economic sense.
If we change the system and remove the incentive, then the problem will decrease.
To that end the board should consider several policy changes:
Let us stop using tax increases to destroy families in the name of compassion.
Updated April 11, 2003
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