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by Peter Rousselot — April 16, 2015 at 2:30 pm 752 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter Rousselot

What are the major lessons we should take away from:

Arlington County needs a new arts policy

Arlington’s current arts policy was adopted on December 8, 1990.  In a column I wrote two years ago about Signature’s $250,000 first bailout, I called on Arlington to update its arts policy. Last December, at the time of Signature’s $5 million second bailout, the Manager promised that Arlington would update its arts policy. It hasn’t happened. Why must we lurch from bailout crisis to bailout crisis without a new policy?

The new arts policy should reflect current fiscal realities

Arlington’s current arts policy was adopted a quarter century ago. It may have served us well for a long time. Parts of the policy may be just as valid today as when those parts were adopted. But, it is now long past time for a new policy because Arlington is facing new issues such as the capacity crisis in our public schools.

Current fiscal realities dictate that core services should receive priority

I strongly favor continued public support for the arts with our tax dollars. But, the arts are not a core government service in the same way as schools, roads, sewers, and public safety. Because the arts are not core government services like those, the County Board should fund a higher percentage share of the “wish lists” for schools, roads, sewers, and public safety than the share the Board funds for the arts.

Funding the arts based upon “economic development” should be reconsidered

It’s a very slippery slope to justify the costs of funding an arts project based on the project’s alleged contribution to economic development. The county has entered into some of its most ill-advised deals, like those with the Artisphere and Signature, by trying to justify those deals as important to the economic development of Rosslyn and Shirlington, respectively.

It would be better and more forthright to provide public taxpayer funding based strictly on artistic merit, relying on the recommendations of a qualified citizens’ advisory group. Even when artistic merit is the sole criterion, Arlington should only enter into agreements that cap Arlington’s financial exposure.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Progressive Voice — April 16, 2015 at 1:45 pm 571 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organization or ARLnow.com. This week’s author is Gerry Collins.

Gerry CollinsOne of Arlington’s core values has been its support for public education — where all children can learn and a premium is placed on the quality of classroom instruction. The success of our school system is part of what makes Arlington an attractive place to live and that success has led to a growing school population.

That growth has led to budget challenges given that the county’s economic growth has not kept pace with school population growth. That is why it has been fascinating to observe the course of events that have brought us to the brink of a final, balanced budget for Arlington Public Schools.

Only four months ago in early December, the projected budget deficit for the Arlington Public Schools was $25.3 million. As adopted on April 10, the School Board’s proposed FY 2016 budget requests an additional $6.2 million from the County Board when that Board adopts the county’s overall budget.

It is interesting to reflect on the process that has brought that additional funding request down to the current $6.2 million. The process has consumed many hours on the part of many players, including the superintendent, the APS staff in Finance and Management Services, and the School Board, as well as allied groups including the Budget Advisory Committee, the Schools Committee of the Arlington County Civic Federation, several employee groups, and a host of parents and citizens who have weighed in on various components of the proposed budget.

The effort to reduce the projected budget deficit was led initially by Superintendent Patrick Murphy who, with the support of the APS finance staff, used revised expenditure calculations as well as savings from the December close-out report to present a proposed budget in February that had lowered the budget gap to $13.6 million.

To close that gap, the superintendent’s proposed budget identified additional reductions organized into three levels, or tiers. Tier 1, the first to be reduced if needed, included $4.8 million in central office efficiencies as well as payments from “one-time” money — that is, funds that cannot be used for ongoing expenses.

Tier 2, the next line of reductions if needed, included $5.1 million through reduced funding for two of the remaining four elementary schools that have a shortened instructional day on Wednesdays, as well as savings derived from increasing the planning factor for K-12 class size by one student per classroom. Tier 3, including funding for the other two schools and a 33 percent cut in the projected salary increase, amounted to $3.7 million in potential budget savings.

Some good news came from Richmond at the conclusion of the General Assembly in March, with the notice of increases in state funding amounting to $1.7 million. This came mainly from a statewide contribution to salary increases for teachers and a reduction in the Virginia Retirement System rate of 0.44 percent. This reduced the budget gap from $13.6 million to $11.9 million.

Additionally, the County Board’s decision to take a more deliberate approach with regard to the decision whether to construct a new elementary school on the Thomas Jefferson Middle School site — pushing back the CIP timeline for that school — provided a little silver lining in the form of $1.4 million in savings on debt service since the spring bond sale would be reduced by $28 million. This lowered the projected budget deficit to $10.5 million.

(more…)

by Mark Kelly — April 16, 2015 at 1:00 pm 467 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyEach year, somewhere around the time in between when your federal and state taxes are due here in Virginia, the Arlington County Board passes its budget. While the final vote will be on Tuesday, many of the decisions will be made at tonight’s final work session where the Board will “mark-up” the budget with the county manager.

Unlike Congress, Arlington is bound by law to pass a budget that is balanced. Many of us are unhappy with the resulting tax increase we pay each and every year, and we may argue our debt levels need to see some additional scrutiny. But, at least our Board must be prepared for the consequences of a vote to raise taxes in order to pay for any additional spending and debt service they propose.

One item in particular to watch on Tuesday, is whether the Board will adopt the recommendation of the county manager, and most fiscal watchdogs, to end the failed Artisphere experiment. It was a prime example of over-promising and under-delivering on an unneeded vanity project.

We will also know whether the Board will raise our taxes, just not as much, by slightly lowering our tax rate again. Will they vote to raise our taxes by holding the rate level? Or, will they completely reverse course from last year and raise our taxes even more than anticipated by passing the rate as advertised?

A safe bet is the Board will hold the rates level. Based on the fact that once again very few showed up to protest the tax rate increase at the late March public hearing, most Arlingtonians seem resigned to believe they have little real say in the decision.

One of the handful of those who spoke at the hearing did remind the Board that many Arlingtonians find that their incomes are simply not rising as fast as their taxes. And, of course that many in Arlington are retired and on fixed incomes. His larger point was that too many Arlingtonians who have owned their homes for years are finding the taxes increasingly difficult to pay.

In his remarks, he also called for a cap on real estate taxes for long-time Arlington residents. It is an interesting idea that merits a second look, particularly for those aging in place on fixed incomes.

And finally, the Board’s Saturday agenda includes a proposal to reduce the penalty if a real estate tax bill is paid less than 30 days after its due. This proposal to lower the penalty for those who pay within 30 days from 10 percent to 5 percent makes sense. Provide an incentive to pay on time but also a grace period of sorts for those who may have missed the deadline for what could be a very good reason.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by ARLnow.com — April 16, 2015 at 10:15 am 2,171 0

A dog (photo courtesy Rena Schild)In Arlington County, residents who own dogs must pay a for a license.

The license costs $10 per year or $25 for every three years. Despite the abundance of dogs in Arlington, the tax only brought in $59,664 from about 7,000 licensed dogs during a recent fiscal year, according to the Sun Gazette.

That has prompted enquiries from County Board member John Vihstadt.

It also led the president of the Arlington County Taxpayers Association, who fervently advocates for lower taxes, to suggest that the fee might be raised to help pay for the county’s dog parks.

What do you think should be done with the county’s dog license fee?

by ARLnow.com — April 15, 2015 at 9:15 am 1,098 0

MoneyToday is Tax Day across the nation. Meanwhile, next week, the Arlington County Board will set the Fiscal Year 2016 real estate tax rate.

Last year, in advance of the Board’s FY 2015 budget vote, we asked what you think about the county’s tax rate.

Only 6.5 percent of respondents said the tax rate should be raised, while 27 percent said the tax rate should be held steady and 66.5 percent said it should be lowered.

(The Board ultimately lowered the rate from $1.006 per $100 in value to $0.996.)

This year, the Board advertised a tax rate of $1.011, giving itself the flexibility to raise the rate by up to 1.5 cents. Such a tax hike could be used to help fully fund schools, which are facing a $6.2 million funding gap.

On the other hand, because of higher residential assessments this year, the Board may consider lowering the rate to ease the increasing tax burden on homeowners.

What do you think should be done this year?

by Mark Kelly — April 9, 2015 at 12:45 pm 1,031 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyVirginia ranked 12th for Economic Outlook when compared to the other 49 states in the latest “Rich States, Poor States” study released by the American Legislative Exchange Council. It does not sound too bad — holding on to a spot in the top 25 percent of the nation.

The study looks at 15 factors, from labor policies to tax rates that historically predict economic success. But, it looks like we may be headed in the wrong direction in the Commonwealth.

Last year, Virginia ranked 11th. The year before Governor McAuliffe took office, we were fifth.

The governor can take some of the responsibility for the decline. So too can the Democrats who controlled the Virginia Senate from the 2007 elections until the resignation of Sen. Puckett last year. But, Republicans have firmly held sway over the House of Delegates for some time and shared in the policy-making decisions that brought us to this point.

Some may discount this ranking because ALEC is known as a conservative organization. So, how do we fare in other rankings for comparison?

In Forbes latest ranking, Virginia took the fourth spot overall in best states to do business. However, if you look at the portion of the ranking called “Growth Prospects” we ranked 33rd.

CNBC ranked us in a tie for eighth, but down three spots from the year before.

Chief Executive ranked us at 11th, down four spots from the year before.

Virginia is by no means in dire straits, but the trendline in these rankings should concern us. Our governor and General Assembly certainly have work to do if our goal is to be No. 1.

In the Chief Executive study, one CEO was quoted as saying, “Virginia has a significant level of local taxes, particularly in jurisdictions in Northern Virginia that constantly nick away at profitability. While the state tax structure is low, the business property taxes, taxes on gross business income and other related taxes of the local jurisdictions eat away at [revenue].”

Arlington Board Members have publicly recognized the fact that we cannot count on federal government spending to fuel future local economic growth. The proximity to our nation’s capital will always be our home court advantage but new businesses do take note of how our local taxing decisions impact their bottom line.

It is past time to make Arlington a more inviting place for businesses to locate. First step for the Board, ignore the calls for a property tax rate increase. Next step, get rid of the BPOL.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Peter Rousselot — April 9, 2015 at 11:45 am 565 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotIn a recent Progressive Voice column, the author observed:

“If we want to move forward with new school construction, family-friendly parks, a properly staffed police department, and a safety net for those less fortunate, we must continue to encourage the presence of a strong and civic-minded business community.”

I agree. Recognizing the substantial regional economic headwinds that are beyond the control of county government, there are some concrete steps that our government can take to encourage the presence of a strong and civic-minded business community.

Arlington Economic Development

This past December, the county hired Victor Hoskins as the new Director of Arlington Economic Development (AED). He has an impressive résumé. He could bring a much-needed fresh perspective to enable Arlington to attract and retain businesses.

However, Mr. Hoskins has joined a county staff whose past practices and budget priorities raise a whole host of questions, including:

  • Does Arlington do any sort of exit interviews when it learns of businesses leaving Arlington? If so, what are the most common comments and lessons learned?
  • Starbucks is planning to open soon on Columbia Pike at Penrose Square. Chipotle also is close to signing a lease for a Pike location. What is AED planning to do to capitalize on these developments? What specific Columbia Pike business development initiatives does AED plan in FY 2016?
  • A recent Washington Post story highlighted Monday Properties’ empty Rosslyn office building at 1812 N. Moore Street. The story quoted a company spokesman as saying “he has not considered lowering the rents he’s asking.”  “Pricing has not been an issue,” he claimed. Say what? How can we ask county taxpayers to contribute millions more in public funding for AED’s economic development efforts when private developers are unwilling to respond to market forces by reducing their rents?

County Staff’s Business Unfriendly Retail Plan

Earlier this year, only the vigilance of a small number of citizen activists, combined with the strong opposition of the Arlington Civic Federation, prevented the adoption of a County-staff-proposed “Arlington County Retail Plan.”

The staff plan contained overly-prescriptive, business unfriendly provisions, including:

  • Allowing only a limited number of options for street-level retail (such as preferring restaurants while banning personal services) from prime locations;
  • Using detailed maps specifying a small set of retail uses supposedly appropriate for each indicated spot on the map, while offering no discernable demographic or economic analysis to support the designations.

Conclusion

The County Board must help AED director Hoskins by adopting new policies that

  • root out existing County staff practices and procedures that discourage business, and
  • encourage private developers and other businesses to participate fairly in addressing the challenges facing Arlington

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Kip Malinosky — April 9, 2015 at 11:00 am 1,344 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organization or ARLnow.com.

Kip MalinoskyHousing affordability is one of the most critical issues of our time. It is indispensable to achieving Arlington’s vision of an inclusive, sustainable and world-class community.

Around the country, communities with good jobs, great schools, and low crime rates almost always face an affordable housing crisis. Arlington is no exception. Despite our county’s award-winning efforts to preserve market-rate affordable housing, our supply has sharply declined. According to a recently released study, affordable housing units have dropped from 23,500 units in 2000 to 10,000 units in 2013, due primarily to increasing rents.

Virtually everyone is affected when a community is no longer affordable to a diverse array of residents. Housing affordability allows seniors to age in place, young professionals to start their careers, and working-class employees to live near their jobs. Single family homes in Arlington are already too expensive for many middle-class families. I

f present trends continue, increasing numbers of people will no longer be able to live in Arlington. This is a loss not only for those directly impacted, but also the larger community.

Businesses depend on having an economically diverse workforce. Localities that are not limited to the wealthy and upper incomes have a competitive advantage in attracting top businesses. A Center for Housing Policy study finds “In a national survey of more than 300 companies conducted by Harris Interactive, more than half (55 percent) of the largest companies with more than 100 employees acknowledge an insufficient level of affordable housing in their proximity.”

Companies have often acted on this understanding by relocating to localities offering broader housing options. With an office vacancy rate around 25 in Arlington, we will need housing that is more affordable to help attract new businesses.

Let’s break this down. Arlington’s tax revenues are split almost equally between the commercial and homeowner sectors. A rising commercial vacancy rate will require either higher homeowner taxes or substantial cuts in county services, including our schools. With our schools projected to add more than 6,000 students over the next 10 years, we need a strong economic development plan — including housing affordability — to accommodate such growth in school population.

Our modern, post-World War II economy was the envy of the world and had at its economic and moral foundations plans to ensure that people had an affordable place to live. In his 1944 State of the Union Address, President Roosevelt articulated the “right of every family to a decent home.” The American Dream has been built on the premise that hard work will lead to success. That success depends, however, on ladders to success being available to workers.

As Emily Badger at the Washington Post asked, “Why do some communities have more ladders for opportunity than other communities?” Affordable housing, especially housing that is close to good public transit, is one of those ladders. How can Arlington ensure a supply of affordable housing when market demand is rapidly eliminating it?

First we must protect the supply of committed affordable housing units, which is currently at 7,000. We can’t lose any more. Second, we should use the power of zoning to foster incentives for more dedicated affordable housing units. Third, we should use this power creatively and thoughtfully.

Finally, we need to bring to bear the power of the private sector to help create affordable housing. We already get $3 of private investment for every $1 of public investment in affordable housing. Perhaps we could do even more. New York City is pursuing a partnership with developers to create 40,000 new units of affordable housing. Through preservation, zoning policy, and partnerships we can toward making sure that Arlington remains a diverse, sustainable and affordable place to live.

Kip Malinosky is Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee. A version of this column originally appeared in the ACDC Voice.

by ARLnow.com — April 6, 2015 at 10:20 am 5,636 0

A towing standoff outside Ray's Hell BurgerTowing in Arlington has again been in the news lately.

Last week a driver with Advanced Towing hooked a car at the CVS parking lot on Columbia Pike, before realizing that there were children inside. The driver unhooked the car but the car’s owner still told his story to a local TV station.

After that story came out, other towing complaints have emerged in our comments section and in our forums.

Towing has historically been a hot topic in Arlington. Last year we reported that food delivery vehicles were being towed off private property by Advanced. In past years it was towing fee increases, towing disputes and crimes against tow companies that have made headlines.

Then, last night, more towing drama: ESPN sportscaster Britt McHenry had her car towed by Advanced during dinner in Arlington. She was not happy about it.

Apparently McHenry wasn’t the only television personality to be towed from that lot in Clarendon recently.

Throughout it all, there’s typically a debate: are tow truck drivers predators who employ shady methods to tow your car away and collect your cash? Or are they simply doing the job that they’re hired to do: protecting private property owners from drivers who park on their lots against the property’s rules?

Inherent in that question is another question: when the towing company does mistakenly tow a car that parked without violating the rules, is it an honest mistake or a cynical “mistake.”

Putting aside the above cases in the Hunan lot, sometimes the emotions of being towed can cloud a simple fact: that you were, in fact, violating the property owner’s parking rules, no matter what was in the car or how short your intended stop.

What do you think?

by Progressive Voice — April 2, 2015 at 1:45 pm 856 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organization or ARLnow.com. The following column was written by Paul Friedman.

Paul FriedmanLast week, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence signed the “The Religious Freedom Restoration Act” into law. The resulting outrage forced him to go on Sunday’s ABC News show “This Week” and attempt to clarify the law’s meaning and dispel the belief that it was discriminatory. He was unsuccessful.

As The Indianapolois Star reported, “Stephanopoulos asked Pence six times whether the new law would allow a business to discriminate against gay couples, and Pence ducked the question six times.” When asked about supporting a law banning discrimination against gays and lesbians, Pence said “that was not on [his] agenda.”

Within days of the law’s passage, companies and groups began cancelling Indiana events. Singer Audra McDonald announced she would devote the proceeds from her upcoming concert to a gay advocacy group. Angie’s List put an expensive expansion on hold. The band Wilco cancelled concert dates. A major technology conference announced that it would relocate to another state. Indianapolis’ Republican mayor called for repeal of the legislation.

Companies from Marriott, Apple, Levi’s and Yelp to sports organizations such as the NCAA, NBA, and NASCAR voiced opposition to the law and emphasized their commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Fortunately, Arlington County has had diversity and inclusion as core values for many years, and those values will help Arlington in its efforts to attract the businesses that will be at the heart of the 21st century economy.

While Virginia had previously passed a state constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and kept Arlington from expanding LGBT rights and establishing benefits for same-sex couples, the Commonwealth’s current leaders have recognized the importance of non-discrimination to the success of the state’s economy.

Since January 2014, when Gov. Terry McAuliffe, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, and Attorney General Mark Herring were sworn into office, Virginia has turned a corner on human rights. All supported marriage equality in their campaigns.

Almost immediately after taking office, Attorney General Herring determined, based on federal Constitutional principles, that his office could no longer defend the Commonwealth’s position opposing marriage equality. Instead, his office argued successfully in court that Virginia’s same-sex marriage ban violated the U.S. Constitution.

When the U.S. Supreme Court decided not to review the 4th Circuit’s decision to that effect, marriage equality became the law of the land in Virginia. Governor McAuliffe moved quickly to implement the court ruling by Executive Order. In doing so, the governor emphasized the importance of marriage equality to the growth of Virginia’s economy.

“The highest priority of state government should be to guarantee every person’s right to live, learn, work, and do business, regardless of their race, gender, creed or sexual orientation … Same-sex marriage is now legal in Virginia,” McAuliffe said. “This is a historic and long overdue moment for our Commonwealth and our country … An open and welcoming environment is imperative to grow as a Commonwealth, and to build a new Virginia economy that will attract vital businesses, innovative entrepreneurs, and thriving families.

This week, Governor McAuliffe put out the welcome mat for those who felt that Indiana’s new law was bad for business.  (more…)

by Mark Kelly — April 2, 2015 at 1:00 pm 982 0

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mark KellyCounty leaders agree: they want to to decrease the office vacancy rates in Arlington. One way to start, abolish the BPOL tax.

What is the BPOL? BPOL stands for Business, Professional and Occupational License, and it is also known as a “business privilege tax” or “gross receipts tax.”

Why is it a prime candidate for abolishment? Because it is a tax for the privilege of operating your business in Arlington. The taxes are based on your gross receipts, not your profits. The lower your profit margin, the more the tax hurts your bottom line.

If you look at the website or listen to a proponent of keeping the tax, you have probably seen the bullet points that show how much you pay. Nothing is due under $10,000; $30 up to $50,000 and $50 up to $100,000. It is only those over $100,000 who pay more, depending on what type of business you run.

This looks somewhat fair to the naked eye until you remember the tax is on every dollar you bring into your business regardless of your expenses. It is truly a tax only an accountant or County Board member could love.

In the 2013 campaign, both Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Ken Cuccinelli said they could support eliminating the authority for the tax in Richmond. But, Arlington could do it on its own. And after the fiasco of the almost, not quite, sort of, elimination of the car tax, it would be better to let localities figure their own way out of the BPOL if they so choose.

Proponents of keeping the tax are primarily concerned about keeping the revenue stream. Last fall, the county treasurer pegged it at $60 million.

Arlington could absorb the revenue “loss” by phasing it out over a period of three years. As has been pointed out multiple times, Arlington collects more than it budgets for in tax revenue each and every year. The County Board could simply designate a portion of the close out funds for the next three years to cover the phase out without raising a single dollar in new taxes from elsewhere.

And, if it truly is a priority to hang an “open for business” sign on Arlington’s front door, then this is a tangible place to start. Bringing more businesses to Arlington would have positive revenue effects not measured by the Treasurer. Presumably, more workers each day would be buying sales-taxed lunches and dinners. It stands to reason that commercial property values, and the corresponding tax revenues, would go higher as the demand for space increases as well.

Board members could quickly give Arlington a competitive advantage on our neighbors in Northern Virginia. And, they would not need a task force or listening session to figure it out.

Mark Kelly is a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Peter Rousselot — April 2, 2015 at 12:15 pm 356 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotLast week, Gov. Terry McAuliffe took on Richmond’s political culture in two major areas: ethics reform and partisan redistricting. Regardless of the final outcome, the bills passed on these subjects by the legislature reflect the wrong priorities. McAuliffe’s responses are right.

Ethics Reform

As I explained last month, the ethics reform bill passed by the Virginia legislature was chock full of loopholes, many inserted at the eleventh hour. Governor McAuliffe now has put the legislature on notice that he is going to exercise his constitutional authority to amend the bill.

The most important amendment will provide a cumulative annual cap of $100 on gifts to state and local employees and legislators (includes Richmond and Arlington). As McAuliffe explains:

I believe an aggregate limit of $100 annually is necessary for meaningful reform.

The General Assembly’s ethics bill proposes a $100 cap per gift, which means a legislator may accept free meals from the same lobbyist every day of the year.

Other McAuliffe amendments will:

  • prohibit any gift to legislators from individuals seeking a contract with state government;
  • narrow the “widely attended events” exemption; and
  • require that official travel paid for by third parties by reported even if those trips are exempted from the gift cap.

All of these amendments strengthen the bill.

Partisan Redistricting

In a more directly confrontational move, Governor McAuliffe vetoed six bills authorizing partisan redistricting. Each vetoed bill follows a time-honored Richmond tradition of making what are labeled “technical” changes to the boundaries between legislative districts. These technical changes usually involve swapping one or more predominantly Republican precincts in legislative district “A” for one or more predominantly Democratic precincts in legislative district “B.”

For example, among the bills McAuliffe vetoed is

One proposed by Sen. Bryce Reeves (R) that would have made his Spotsylvania district more Republican — and safer for him — as he faces a Democratic challenger this year. The measure would have traded precincts with a neighboring district represented by Sen. Creigh Deeds (D), giving Deeds a heavily Democratic precinct and taking for himself a Republican one.

In vetoing the bills, Governor McAuliffe stated that each bill violated the Virginia constitutional requirement that legislative lines be re-drawn once every ten years to take into account new census results. Regardless of the merits of that constitutional argument, McAuliffe was right to veto the bills.

It’s a good way to highlight the negative effects of partisan redistricting in which incumbent legislators choose their voters rather than the other way around. Richmond incumbents from both political parties have a long-standing culture of which partisan redistricting forms an important part.

Conclusion

Governor McAuliffe deserves praise for challenging Richmond’s undemocratic political practices.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Ethan Rothstein — April 1, 2015 at 11:20 am 588 0

Stapler in JelloIt’s April Fool’s Day, when the world’s latent tricksters have free rein to terrorize their friends, family and colleagues with deceit, dishonesty and deception.

Some people abstain from the holiday altogether, while other April Fool’s Day pranks have become legend. Some pranks have disastrous results.

If your friends, family and coworkers are gullible, it may be too good of an opportunity, but some of you will rise above the fray. So what will you do?

by Peter Rousselot — March 26, 2015 at 2:15 pm 1,133 0

Peter’s Take is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Peter RousselotIn a recent column about the Arlington County Board’s TJ Elementary decision, I focused on three of the critical lessons learned for Arlington Public Schools:

  1. APS can’t choose the best option unless it knows what all the options are
  2. APS must be completely transparent in discussing all options
  3. Developers must be part of the solution

How do these lessons and other factors specifically impact the capacity crisis at Oakridge Elementary?

Oakridge parents have launched an online petition seeking capacity crisis relief from the School Board by September 2016. The parents’ petition points out that:

By the start of the 2015 school year, Oakridge Elementary School is projected to be the county’s largest elementary school with almost 800 students. It is projected to be at 117 percent capacity with seven incoming kindergarten classes. The anticipated rate of growth for Oakridge far exceeds every other elementary school in the county.

Because the capacity crisis at Oakridge is so severe, and because the County Board’s TJ decision has set back the general timeline for capacity crisis relief, the county should not wait until after the conclusion of the Community Facilities Study (CFS) before taking any action regarding Oakridge. Among the specific actions that the County Board ought to take before the conclusion of the CFS are these:

  • In consultation with the School Board, commit to granting some APS students access to appropriate county facilities on an interim basis until a final plan can be implemented for overcrowding at Oakridge. Based on a March 12 letter from Mary Hynes to James Lander, some movement in this direction might give Oakridge some relief by September 2015.
  • Insist that developers of projects that will generate new enrollment at Oakridge provide their fair share of financial support to alleviate overcrowding at Oakridge. Vornado has a long history of developing projects within the current boundaries of Oakridge Elementary. In a very real sense, Oakridge is Vornado’s neighborhood school. Vornado does and should have a vested interest in Oakridge’s success. (As I wrote in my earlier TJ decision column, if the county attorney believes Arlington currently lacks authority under state law to require Vornado to provide such financial assistance, the County Board now should direct the Attorney to publish his legal reasoning in detail.)
  • Commit in principle to increase APS’ share of the county-wide debt ceiling limit (the 10 percent rule) to speed up APS’ ability to build new schools, additions, or any renovations that are so substantial that they are appropriate for debt financing.

Conclusion

Both Boards must work together on this issue to ensure Oakridge remains a successful neighborhood school.

Peter Rousselot is a former member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Virginia and former chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

by Garrett McGuire — March 26, 2015 at 1:30 pm 1,021 0

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Garrett McGuireArlington residents are focused on key community priorities — school capacity and instructional needs, housing affordability, Metro upgrades, community facilities, open space, and other areas that depend upon public funding.

However, as a recent Washington Post article highlighted, we face another threat to our community that has received less attention: a high (and rising) commercial vacancy rate. The recently launched Community Facilities Study Group was briefed last month on the current state of Arlington’s economy and the picture is sobering.

With one-quarter of the county’s 40 million square feet of office space vacant, Arlington is faced with reduced commercial property taxes at a time when the demand for county services continues to rise.

Our ability to fund county services at existing or enhanced levels requires a healthy local economy.

Arlington is the envy of many area localities because we have a balanced 50-50 tax split between commercial real estate and homeowner property taxes. However, rising commercial vacancy rates will slow commercial real estate tax receipts and homeowners could either pay more to cover the lost revenue — or services will have to be reduced.

Those are our real options. Even if the county and school budgets were scoured for every inefficiency, potential staff reduction, or unnecessary project or program, we would still face either increased residential taxes or service reductions if Arlington is not able to attract more commercial and government tenants.

Additionally, with school spending already a significant portion of Arlington’s budget, and school enrollment growing at nearly 5 percent a year, funding for schools could be in jeopardy at a critically important time if we are not competitive for major tenants with the District, Tysons, Alexandria, and outer suburbs.

Any County Board candidate (Democrat, Republican, Independent, Green, Reform, Bull Moose etc…) should have a strong economic development plan. Without a thriving business community that provides jobs, pays wages and drives county revenue, we will not be able to solve and fund our core priorities, and promote our core values.

The Arlington Economic Development (AED) team, under new leadership, is becoming more aggressive about marketing our community’s assets. This month, AED attended SXSW in Austin, Texas, to pitch companies on Arlington. We need our local government — and our elected officials — to continue developing innovative marketing techniques and have a clear understanding of what resources are needed to attract and keep major tenants.

Because Arlington’s success has relied upon federal government spending, we need a new push toward a more diversified local economy.

In addition to supporting the growth of local startups, we must focus on companies that are diverse in scope and can withstand reduced government spending — like Marriott, which happens to be looking for a new Metro-accessible office location.

We have a governor who is focused on, and has thrived during, his first year attracting businesses to every region of the Commonwealth. His energy and enthusiasm can be an added tool to recruiting world-class employers to fill Arlington’s empty office buildings. Just last week, the governor announced nearly 600 new jobs in Fairfax County with the expansion of Navy Federal Credit Union’s offices.

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