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2001-02-16 Senate committee does not permit Taxpayer Alliance to testify against sales tax increase



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The Senate Finance Committee has twice refused to allow the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance to testify against bills advocating a sales tax increase for Northern Virginia.

The most recent occurrence was yesterday, February 15, 2001, when the Senate Finance Committee approved Senator Richard L. Saslaw's (D-Springfield) amendment to HB2776. As approved by the House, HB2776 proposed a tax increase for transportation but not for schools. Senator Saslaw's amendment added back higher taxes for schools. After Senator Saslaw spoke in favor of his amendment, the committee voted unanimously in favor of the amended bill. Unlike the process with other bills in the meeting, the Senate Finance Committee Chairman did not solicit testimony from citizens regarding the Saslaw bill.

Mr. John Toivonen, Richmond lobbyist for the Taxpayers Alliance, had prepared testimony to present against HB2776. A member of the chairman's staff had previously told Mr. Toivonen that citizens would have three minutes each to testify regarding the bill.

Public testimony was also not solicited when the Senate Finance Committee approved Senator Saslaw's original bill, SB1368. Mr. Toivonen had prepared testimony at that time, also. Arthur G. Purves, president of the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance, expressed regret at the lack of citizen input. "Tax increases since 1975 now give Fairfax County an extra $1 billion every year, and yet the county chooses not use the money to fix its school buildings." "It's ironic," Mr. Purves continued. "In supporting the sales tax and opposing the Standards of Learning tests, the schools are advocating higher taxes for lower standards."

Mr. Toivonen's testimony against the sales tax increase:

Distinguished members of the Senate Finance Committee:

The Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance asks you to vote "No" on HB2776 for four reasons:

1) Past tax and spending increases now give Fairfax County, each year, $1.1 billion more than is required to cover population, enrollment, and inflation growth since 1975. Between 1981 and 2001, the average inflation-adjusted personal property assessment for a Fairfax County household increased 140 percent, from $276 to $673. Since 1975, the ratio of commercial tax revenues to residential revenues has doubled. Third, while the percentage of the county's population attending public schools has decreased by a third, from 25 percent in 1975 to 16 percent currently, the county transfer to the school system has remained at about 50 percent.

2) A Washington, D.C.,-based group, Wider Opportunities for Women, reports that of the $50,000 required for a family of four with two children to live in Fairfax County, the top two expenses are childcare, at $15,000, and taxes, at $11,000. Household taxes in Fairfax County are at a record high, and the Feb. 14 Washington Post suggests that the supervisors are about to impose an 11-percent real estate tax increase, after imposing a five-percent increase last year and at a time when energy costs are soaring.

3) Fairfax County tax increases have been sufficient to meet school and transportation construction needs. However, the supervisors and school board chose to spend the taxes elsewhere. On February 5, both the county chairman and the school superintendent made public statements responding to Taxpayer Alliance charges made here in Richmond. Neither the chairman nor the superintendent denied the $1.1 billion tax increase. Rather, they both tried to defend their spending increases. For three years, the chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors has refused to disclose funding figures about programs receiving the tax increases. Of the $1.1 billion, most went to school programs that failed to raise achievement because the schools employ an unstructured "progressivist" curriculum that favors gifted children but handicaps the so-called "regular kid." Most county spending increases went to welfare and public safety. If schools used a more structured curriculum that would raise the achievement of low-income students, we believe that welfare and public-safety spending would be less.

4) The Northern Virginia 2020 Transportation Plan that HB2776 helps finance does not require high-density zoning along rail lines. Therefore ridership will be low, creating a demand for huge tax subsidies. The plan also calls for $3 billion to widen Interstates, which would draw commuters and commercial development away from the expensive rail corridors.

Fairfax County's crowded schools and roads are not the result of low taxes. The real problem is that our county leaders are not spending taxes wisely.

Please defeat HB2776.

Thank you.


The Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance Press Release