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The Right Note: Foster for the 48th

by Mark Kelly | July 24, 2014 at 2:00 pm | 564 views | No Comments

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 KellyFor voters who look for experienced public servants with a record of doing what’s right for their constituents, Dave Foster’s entry into the 48th District special election is a welcome development.

Dave Foster was twice elected by Arlingtonians to the School Board. What’s even more impressive than Foster’s electoral victories versus the Democrats’ sample ballot is that twice he was elected by his Democratic colleagues to serve as Chairman of the School Board. In other words, he was so successful in getting things done across party lines on behalf of our public schools that he was entrusted with leading the Board.

When Foster left the Board after eight years, his Democratic colleagues called him the “consummate professional” and “an exemplary public servant.” They recognized his work to reduce class size and to increase foreign language offerings in Arlington schools. Later he was tapped to serve on the Virginia Board of Education where he was elected President, and led the fight for Virginia’s No Child Left Behind waiver.

Rip Sullivan has no such record to offer. The mailing he sent out to potential Democrat firehouse primary voters was merely a laundry list of partisan priorities. Sullivan even admitted to the Blue Virginia blog that he supports a non-revenue neutral carbon tax. A carbon tax would raise our energy prices — hitting those on the lowest end of the economic ladder the hardest. Implementing an energy tax would raise out-of-pocket costs for transportation, to heat and cool our homes, and for everything we consume that requires energy to produce or transport.

Sullivan’s focus on partisan priorities like raising taxes was to the exclusion of district specific concerns. After being declared the winner of the Democratic nomination, Sullivan was asked by a reporter for the Connection whether he agreed with Dave Foster’s position on a referendum on the Columbia Pike trolley — a big issue for Arlington voters. He responded that he was going to “go to bed” rather than respond. A week later, Sullivan reiterated his support spending half a billion dollars on the trolley project, but joined Foster in support of a referendum.

Voters should be dubious of Sullivan’s campaign conversion to support for a referendum. Del. Patrick Hope, an early Sullivan backer, said he supported a referendum during his run for Congress. After losing that primary, Hope said he would not be introducing legislation in Richmond to force a referendum.

By contrast, Dave Foster stands squarely against the trolley and would be better positioned with a Republican majority in Richmond to pass a referendum. Voters can add this to Foster’s commitment to put his education experience to work for our children. And, they can count on Foster’s promise to work across the partisan divide on Medicaid reforms in the upcoming special session.

Partisan Democrats like state Sen. Barbara Favola want to make this race about promoting the progressive agenda and focusing on divisive issues. Voters, on the other hand, are tired of all the partisan posturing. They want to elect people who will focus on finding solutions.

On Aug. 19, 48th District residents can elect a candidate with a proven ability to get things done across party lines by voting for Dave Foster.

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

The Right Note: What to do About Expired IDs

by Mark Kelly | July 17, 2014 at 2:30 pm | 1,071 views | No Comments

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 Kelly

Virginia’s photo identification law is going into effect for the general election this fall. The requirement is that every voter be able to produce a photo ID at their polling place in order to cast a vote. The law is certainly not without its detractors, but it is the law, and as such it should be properly enforced.

As a reminder, according to the State Board of Elections, any Virginia drivers license or other DMV-issued photo ID, a U.S. passport, any Virginia higher-learning institution photo ID, any government-issued photo ID, and employer-issued photo IDs will be accepted. Anyone without one of these accepted photo IDs will be able to go to a local registrar’s office and obtain a photo ID card free of charge.

The latest question is whether an expired ID will be accepted and if so, how long it can be expired. State officials are contemplating limiting the acceptance of validly issued ID’s to 30 days after they expired. They are currently open for public comments on the matter.

Arlington officials said via Twitter that the expiration date “shouldn’t matter” for purposes of proving you are who you say you are. While a true statement on its face, Arlington election officials are staking out the wrong position on this issue.

Putting safeguards around the voter ID law, like an expiration date requirement, makes sense. One of the problems that has been demonstrated in voting are individuals registered in, and too often voting in, more than one state.

Earlier this spring, it was revealed that 44,000 people were registered to vote in both Maryland and Virginia. If one of those voters, living in Maryland and registered to vote there, still possesses an expired Virginia ID, should they be allowed to vote in Virginia if their name still appears on the voter rolls here? While it does not happen often, and it is already a violation of the law, your vote should not be canceled or devalued because someone voted improperly in Virginia.

If we are going to have a photo ID law to protect against any voter fraud, then it ought to require that the ID be current. A 30-day rule would give someone who made an honest mistake in not renewing their ID a safe harbor. Going beyond that, or having no expiration date requirement at all, is simply creating a loophole in a law that already goes out of its way to accept current IDs.

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

The Right Note: Pull Back the Curtain

by Mark Kelly | July 10, 2014 at 1:00 pm | 896 views | No Comments

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 KellyWith the County Board authorizing $650,000 in expenditures to promote the Columbia Pike trolley, one has to ask why?

The three Board supporters constantly explain to us that the decision has been made and that the project will go forward regardless of any opposition. Why then, do they feel the need to sell it to us? It seems to be a waste of taxpayer resources since the people who are currently allowed to vote on it hold a 3-2 advantage on the Board.

It is hard not to arrive at the conclusion that it is being done for one reason — political gain. Alan Howze lost the special election in April, largely over this issue. He is trying to win a full term in November.

Next year, two of the current trolley supporters on the Board will face the voters. A taxpayer-funded ad campaign to blunt criticism of the half-billion dollar project is certainly in their electoral interests.

It may be time for local media to ask more questions about the decision-making process. Who originally proposed the PR campaign? Why was it undertaken? What instructions were given about how to move forward on the ads and other materials?

In the same vein, the change of Treasurer in Arlington for the first time in three decades opens a question, could the Treasurer’s office do more to provide transparency of county spending?

Frank O’Leary has come forward with questions about Arlington’s finances — most recently calling into question our growing cash-on-hand numbers. Why not open the books even more?

Reports are the County Manager will soon have in place an auditor on the county staff. Hopefully, the trolley-related contracts will be at the top of their list. While I applaud John Vihstadt for pushing for an internal audit function, the new staff member will report to the County Manager. That chain of command leaves open the question of whether the office will have the independence it needs to shed light on spending decisions.

Public pressure brought about by increased transparency via an independently-elected office holder may be help fill the information gap. The Virginia Code specifically contemplates Internet access to nonconfidential public records from the Treasurer’s office. There is no reason with today’s technology that we could not put Arlington’s checkbook online in a cost-effective way that provides maximum information without compromising any confidential material.

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

The Right Note: Never a Dull Moment in Arlington

by Mark Kelly | July 3, 2014 at 3:00 pm | 1,145 views | No Comments

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 KellyI need to check the record books, but 2014 is shaping up to have the most special elections in Arlington history. Over the past week, Del. Bob Brink, School Board member Noah Simon, and Treasurer Frank O’Leary have resigned. The special election for the seat in the General Assembly will take place Aug. 19 and the other two are likely to be held in conjunction with the general election Nov. 4.

Del. Brink started spending more time in Richmond and less in Arlington in recent years, and is not to be blamed to want to take a full-time Virginia government job as he contemplates retirement. I first got to know Del. Brink in 2007 while campaigning around the county. I joked with him after redistricting that he intentionally had me drawn out of his district to cut down on potential opposition.

Brink quipped that he was almost never on the winning side of a vote in the House of Delegates. Maybe voters will take into account who can actually work with the overwhelming Republican majority in Richmond to advance Arlington’s interests. With 68 of 100 seats, the Republicans are set to control the chamber for years to come. Sending another solid “NO” vote on everything would seem counter-productive.

Noah Simon had a promising future ahead of him that was cut short by the tragic loss of his wife. He is to be commended for putting his children first in this decision, and my prayers are with his family.

Simon’s replacement joins the School Board at a critical time to try and thread the needle on meeting capacity needs without overshooting the target, with limited space to build new buildings, and with tremendous pressure on where boundary lines fall. And, when Arlington spends more than $22,000 per child, parents will have high expectations on how those decisions are made.

There was never a dull moment with Treasurer O’Leary. Readers of this column know that I particularly appreciated it that he took the County Board to task for growing surpluses. O’Leary felt like taxes could be lowered instead. His fellow Democrats on the County Board, on the other hand, did NOT appreciate it.

In November, voters will permanently elect the first new treasurer in 31 years. It would be nice if the guardian of our tax dollars would increase the pressure on the County Board to account for where all those dollars go.

Infusing new blood into Arlington’s elected leadership is healthy. Just as in April’s special election for County Board, I hope voters will have a choice between competing ideas and directions when they head the polls. If nothing else, it will force Democrats to take, and defend, positions on the issues we face.

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

The Right Note: State of Columbia Pike

by Mark Kelly | June 26, 2014 at 1:30 pm | 1,635 views | No Comments

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 KellyChairman Jay Fisette delivered a state of the county address at the annual Arlington Chamber of Commerce event this week. Job No. 1 for the chairman — tell everyone how great the Columbia Pike trolley will be.

Knowing words from the three supporters still on the County Board may not be enough to turn public opinion, so the Board will also ramp up a $650,000 ad campaign for the unpopular project. Any number of other projects in the County could be paid for with that money, as well as with the remainder of the $7-8 million contract. Or, they could have cut taxes and left that money in the local economy.

In his speech, Fisette claimed that running a trolley line down existing lanes of the Pike will not contribute to traffic congestion or accidents more than a bus or another car. He also pivoted to creating new affordable housing stock as an important rationale for the trolley.

A few years back, the Board made redeveloping Columbia Pike a priority. They made a part of that plan the form based code. Under the form based code, developers can essentially build without negotiating with the county on a site plan, provided they stay within the bounds of the code.

But, the Columbia Pike corridor is home to a high percentage of the most market-rate affordable housing in the county. This Board-driven redevelopment, happening now without the trolley in place, will gradually drive that market-rate affordable housing out of the county.

So, now the Board believes they must make replacing that housing stock a priority. The trolley, Fisette claims, will incentivize developers to work outside the form based code for additional density in exchange for creating affordable housing. Imagine Clarendon on the Pike. Of course, many disagree with Fisette’s assessment that additional density will make a substantial difference in attracting developers who will opt to pursue it.

Regardless of the disagreements over the merits of the Fisette plan, if implemented, we will have come full circle. The Board adds to the affordable housing shortage. Then the Board commits to spending taxpayer dollars to fix said crisis. And, in so doing, the Board sticks Arlingtonians with a long-term commitment to subsidizing the operations of a trolley line, over and above the additional construction costs. And worse, it will not substantially improve the ability to move people over improved bus service, which can be done at a fraction of the cost.

Fisette clearly disagrees on the efficacy of the improved bus service. “No possible bus system can handle that ridership growth,” he said. At the same time, the trolley system cannot handle the increased ridership on its own either. Buses will continue to run up and down the Pike with the trolleys. The half-billion price tag does not replace buses along the Pike, it would merely supplement them.

The bottom line — the trolley does not have an image problem that can be corrected with some slick advertising campaign or speeches by the chairman.

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

The Right Note: Tone Deaf Decisions

by Mark Kelly | June 19, 2014 at 1:30 pm | 924 views | No Comments

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 KellyIn completely unsurprising news, Board Members Fisette, Tejada and Hynes have rejected calls for a referendum on the Columbia Pike trolley. What does that mean?

They would almost certainly lose the vote. Outside of a Presidential election turnout year, there is virtually no way the Board could win this vote — even if they could still get the endorsement on the Democrat’s sample ballot. The three trolley supporters may not care what the public thinks, but someone over in the County Manager’s office has certainly figured it out.

It makes you wonder whether Tejada or Hynes plan to run for re-election next year. Maybe they are taking advice and counsel on this project inside of their own political bubble, but their unwavering support of the project seems to leave them vulnerable in 2015.

Thus ends Alan Howze’s political stunt of calling for a referendum. Howze supports the trolley, and his wish to take it off the table by punting it to a public vote has been denied by the three Board members who endorsed him in the special election.

Chairman Fisette pledged not to use homeowner-financed general obligation bonds. That is an empty promise since the Board would have to take a request for those bonds to the voters. It has always been the Board’s plan to use other funding mechanisms. Federal dollars, the commercial property tax surcharge, tax increment financing, or public-private partnerships have been the options on the table since the start, almost certainly in no small part to avoid a public vote.

Walter Tejada said there are “other ways to address public concerns” on the trolley. This also rings hollow from someone who has repeatedly made clear statements that the Board has already taken into account all the public input it needs on the trolley before moving the project forward.

The trolley trio has no intention of turning back now. Chalk this announcement up to another tone deaf move that only further hardens the opposition.

In other news, the Arlington Police Department announced they would enforce the Virginia DMV’s decision to outlaw Uber and Lyft. From a law enforcement perspective, APD really had no choice here. But, this does open up some questions.

Where do our County Board members stand on the ban? And, where does Alan Howze stand?

Who ultimately made the decision in Richmond to prohibit Uber and Lyft from operating in Virginia? What is Arlington’s General Assembly delegation doing to rectify the issue with Governor McAuliffe?

Legislators could ask for emails from the DMV and Governor’s office to investigate the decision-making process, but it would be a shame to see any hard drives get the Lois Lerner/IRS treatment.

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

The Right Note: Will Virginia Avoid a Shutdown?

by Mark Kelly | June 12, 2014 at 2:00 pm | 619 views | No Comments

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 KellyWhat a difference two weeks make.

When last I wrote this column, Eric Cantor was still the Majority Leader of the U.S. House. Arlington was going forward with the aquatics center. Democrats controlled the state Senate. And, it was looking increasingly unlikely the General Assembly would pass a budget on time.

Much has been made of the circumstances surrounding the resignation of state Sen. Phillip Puckett. But, the fact remains that he has resigned and put Republicans in control of the Senate. Looking at the electoral results of his district, it is much more likely than not that Gov. Terry McAuliffe and the Democrats have lost control of that chamber at least through the 2015 elections.

In all likelihood, the Republican-controlled Virginia General Assembly will pass a budget to send to the Governor’s desk — as early as today. All Senate Republicans, and one Democrat, have indicated they would likely pass a budget without resolving the Medicaid question. So, the budget will look largely like the one the General Assembly could have negotiated and passed two months ago.

The Governor will then face a choice. He can veto the budget and shut the government down over the expansion of Obamacare. He can admit he does not have the votes, stop the political theater, and return to the job of governing. Or, he can proceed to expand Obamacare on his own, without legal authority.

If he vetoes the bill, it would stop the paychecks of government employees and the flow of state dollars to localities beginning on July 1. Arlington’s rainy day fund would almost certainly cover the interim costs until state funding was restored, but many localities would immediately be put in a bind.

If the Governor admits defeat in this round, he can keep the government open and make his case for a special session to try and make a deal on Medicaid. If a special session fails, he can campaign on it in 2015 and try to win enough votes in the General Assembly to ensure its passage in the next biennial budget.

The worst thing for him to do is a third, almost “nuclear option,” which is to ignore the law and try to move forward on executive authority. This would lead to a constitutional crisis where state employees would have to decide whether to adhere to state law or executive order. This course of action would put us in a state of limbo while courts sorted out the mess.

The Governor should commit to sign a budget to keep the government open and promise not to expand Medicaid without the statutory authority to do so.

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

The Right Note: The Governor Votes No

by Mark Kelly | May 29, 2014 at 1:30 pm | 495 views | No Comments

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 KellyLast Friday, Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed bi-partisan ethics legislation which passed the General Assembly unanimously. The bill would have barred the governor and his campaign committees from soliciting or accepting donations or gifts of $50 or more from anyone seeking funding from the Governor’s Development Opportunity Fund.

The governor claims he vetoed the bill because he wanted the provisions to cover General Assembly members as well. His rationale is that they vote on the budget for the Fund.

The companies with pending grant applications are on a confidential list held by the administration. That means General Assembly members could unknowingly make illegal campaign solicitations or accept illegal contributions if they were covered by the law. The alternative is to share the list with everyone responsible for soliciting or accepting campaign checks for General Assembly members, including campaign treasurers.

That course of action seems both impractical and unnecessary if you want to stop influence over ultimate funding decisions. The bottom line is that it is solely the governor’s administration that determines where these loans and grants go — meaning any pay for play could potentially happen right where the ethics bill was targeted.

Some may argue that the existence and use of the fund only invites questionable decisions. That instead, state run incentive programs should be open to a more full and fair competition — if funded by taxpayer dollars at all.

At this point, however, the fund does exist. Passing reasonable rules that ensure decisions on distributions from it are free from the influence of campaign contributions would provide an appropriate level of accountability to taxpayers.

Terry McAuliffe was elected governor last fall despite a less than sterling reputation when it came to sweeping up campaign contributions. He also made some questionable claims related to his own business dealings, including failed efforts to get assistance from Virginia to build a plant for GreenTech Automotive here.

Signing this bi-partisan bill would have gone a long way to silence Gov. McAuliffe’s critics. Instead, the governor vetoed it — standing firmly on the side of business, and politics, as usual.

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

The Right Note: Surplus Questions Remain

by Mark Kelly | May 22, 2014 at 1:45 pm | 594 views | No Comments

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 Kelly

This past week, Treasurer Frank O’Leary updated a chart showing county cash-on-hand. According to the Treasurer, over the past five years, the County’s April cash-on-hand has approximately doubled.

O’Leary caused a splash with last year’s version. Initially he called for using a growing cash surplus to provide taxpayers with a rebate. Within days, O’Leary explained his comments were meant as a private citizen, not as an elected official.

Spending less money than you take in is a laudable goal. Creating a rainy day fund from taxpayer surpluses is important when our local government has to actually balance its budget every year. At the same time, the trend line is moving in a direction that should concern Arlingtonians.

We currently have about $360 million in the bank — an amount equal to roughly one-third of our annual budget. O’Leary picked April to study because it is typically the lowest cash-on-hand month of the year. The monthly cash-on-hand has peaked at over $600 million in the fall.

At the very least, a transparent government should provide an accounting and an explanation for the overflowing coffers. Here are four questions the County should answer about the surplus.

  1. What are the surpluses earmarked for, if anything? Trolley, aquatics center, school construction, anything at all? If the money is in the accounts, presumably the County can tell us about the intended purposes.
  2. Will the County Manager reveal the process by which they estimate revenue projections since they continuously underestimate actual revenue collections? I have written about this on multiple occasions, and this year the Board used the revenue surplus as its rationale for the token tax rate cut.
  3. Why didn’t the growing surpluses warrant a larger tax rate cut? Many fiscal watchdogs have called for a rebate to taxpayers, not just Treasurer O’Leary.
  4. Will you publish the county’s “check register” online? Arlingtonians should be able to track revenues, expenditures, and accounts on a regular basis without relying on annual reports from the Treasurer. This can be done in a manner that would both provide maximum transparency while protecting privacy.

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

The Right Note: Aftershocks

by Mark Kelly | May 15, 2014 at 1:00 pm | 835 views | No Comments

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 KellyIf the County Board special election was a small political earthquake, aftershocks were felt this past week and were centered somewhere in Crystal City.

Democrats sent out a newsletter which expressed exactly what many of us outside the controlling party in Arlington have been saying for years — the County Board is (rightly) perceived to be arrogant and insular.

Undaunted, the Board plowed ahead. It came to light that once again, the Board saw fit to give raises to the three employees it hires directly without putting the issue on the agenda. The Washington Post was on the case, disclosing that County Manager Barbara Donnellan received a raise of $8,000. Could it be for successfully stalling the $1 million bus stop study? Or maybe, it is just for taking all the slings and arrows when the Board refers questions to “staff?”

Also this week, the cost for the Columbia Pike to Crystal City trolley system was released. Based on past cost projections, I think it is safe to assume the $585 million price tag will only go up. And of course, it will not take long to scare the $1 billion mark.

This announcement comes on the heels of concerns that addressing school capacity needs may bump up against the bounds of the debt limits necessary to maintain our triple AAA bond rating. Most Arlingtonians would place the need to address 700 additional students entering our schools over other projects, but the priorities of the County Board remain an open question.

There is no doubt that something eventually has to give. In the past, that usually meant your wallet.

Some have suggested that the County Board may be giving themselves an out to abandon the trolley at a later date by relying on federal dollars in the funding mix. Federal officials have already sent it back to the drawing board once. Others are still concerned that the County Board could eventually turn to a public-private partnership or some other funding mechanism as a “savior” for it.

One thing is for sure, the retirement of Chris Zimmerman means the number one trolley cheerleader is no longer in the building. His departure opens the door for political expediency to trump insular arrogance if voters give John Vihstadt a full term in November. Walter Tejada or Mary Hynes might “re-evaluate” their position heading into 2015. That would most certainly leave Alan Howze with nothing to do but shake his head.

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

The Right Note: Two More Dems Break Rank on Trolley

by Mark Kelly | May 8, 2014 at 2:00 pm | 1,878 views | No Comments

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 KellyNews came out yesterday that Treasurer Frank O’Leary and Commissioner of the Revenue Ingrid Morroy joined Patrick Hope and Alan Howze in calling for a referendum on the Columbia Pike trolley.

Hope and Howze are trying to get attention in races for this year. Hope is looking for an advantage in a crowded June congressional primary. And Howze is trying to regain footing after his blowout special election loss one month ago.

Both Hope and Howze say they still support the project. They claim that if Arlingtonians only knew more about the benefits of the trolley, they would vote for it in a referendum.

Herein lies the problem with the tepid support for a referendum from Howze and Hope. People do not support the project, and already know plenty about it to make an informed vote.

The $1 million bus stop is a precursor for the trolley stops. That is why the pricey, open air, will probably not keep you dry in the rain even with the new design, structures are being built. The fact that the price will drop by half is of little consolation to Arlingtonians. We are still left to wonder why it costs so much to build so little. And, we rightly question the wisdom of building a fixed rail system to what could ultimately cost half a billion dollars and do nothing to improve traffic conditions along the corridor.

If the County Board puts the Columbia Pike trolley, in a straight up or down fashion, on the ballot this fall, voters will almost certainly reject it. And, voters would almost certainly reject any candidate for County Board who actively campaigns for it.

Morroy and O’Leary are more interesting case studies as they have suddenly gone public on a referendum. Many believe this is O’Leary’s last term in office, and Morroy is not up for election again until the fall of 2015.

Best guess is that they have both long held doubts about the wisdom of spending taxpayer dollars on the project. Now that two other elected Democrats broke the ice, the two officials who are caretakers of our public funds here in Arlington have the political cover to take a position counter to the slim pro-trolley majority on the Board.

In the final analysis, most of those who track the trolley believe the Board has no intention to fund the project with general obligation bonds. If so, the Board can move forward without a public vote. A referendum then, would be on a token amount of money and would hold no real power to stop the project. Only the fear of public backlash at the ballot box in future elections would stop the Board from moving forward.

After April 8, it is now a very real fear. And, it is starting to show.

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

The Right Note: Making It Up As They Go Along

by Mark Kelly | May 1, 2014 at 1:30 pm | 827 views | No Comments

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 KellyOne thing we seem to agree on as Americans these days, we are wary of the actions elected officials are taking.

When the president said he would ignore Congress and take action via “phone and pen,” he did little to bolster our faith in our elected officials to follow the rules. It certainly did not boost his job approval rating either. In national polls, Americans are consistently giving President Obama marks in the low 40s.

Here in Virginia, we are starting to see a similar approach to governing.

On the Virginia Attorney General’s website, it clearly states that it is Attorney General Mark Herring’s job to defend the constitutionality of state laws when they are challenged in court. And, he swore an oath of office to defend the Constitution of Virginia.

Since taking office in January, however, General Herring has twice decided to ignore his sworn duty and not defend or enforce Virginia law. Herring’s actions on the marriage provision in our Virginia Constitution or the law prohibiting in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants should give us all pause. Ends justifying the means is a dangerous precedent when the next Attorney General may have different priorities.

At the same time, rumors are swirling that if Gov. Terry McAuliffe does not get his way on Medicaid expansion in the budget fight, that he will try to implement it through his executive powers. A stroke of the pen, and he could simply ignore the legislative branch some speculate.

Herring, based on his track record to date, would almost certainly back McAuliffe’s play were the governor to make it. McAuliffe and Herring would presumably then dare the legislature to try and overturn an executive order. Let’s hope, however, that the rumored executive order route is merely conjecture, or a tactic to try and get Republicans to the negotiating table on Medicaid.

The election of the Attorney General or Governor cannot overturn the results of all other elections. We elect a legislature to pass laws. We have a state constitution and a process for the voters to amend it. Lawmaking by “phone and pen” is wrong in Washington, and it is wrong for Virginia.

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

The Right Note: Five Numbers to Think About

by Mark Kelly | April 24, 2014 at 3:00 pm | 820 views | No Comments

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 KellyI. 4.6 percent — The tax increase the average Arlingtonian faces even after a one-cent tax rate reduction. Fairfax passed a half-cent rate increase which pushed their dollar for dollar tax increase slightly above Arlington’s — up $357 versus $324. But, it will not be enough for Fairfax to overtake us in the race for the highest average tax bill. The Board could have and should have gone farther.

II. 41 percent — The percentage of Virginians who support expanding Medicaid. The Christopher Newport University poll seems to indicate that Virginians have no faith that the federal government will pay the promised cost share. The federal share is not slated to drop below 100 percent till the end of Gov. McAuliffe’s term, so he is betting on never having to figure out how to pay for any of it. These poll numbers reflect the reality that a nation approaching $20 trillion in debt will be unable to pay for a program that is already full of broken promise. Terry McAuliffe and the Senate Democrats may shut down the Virginia government over the promise “if you like your federal cost share you can keep it,” but it would be an ill-advised move.

III. $310 million — Not that anyone needs reminding that the Columbia Pike trolley will hang (at least) this much debt around Arlingtonians. But, the CIP fight is around the corner. It is where presumably the triumvirate of Fisette, Hynes and Tejada will reveal their plans to pay for it. As I wrote last week, Hynes and Tejada face the voters again in 2015 and would be most susceptible to public pressure to reject the project.

IV. 15 — The number of races on the ballot in Arlington in 2015 (Look for local Democrats use the double 15s in the name of their joint campaign). John Vihstadt’s success in a low turnout special election will hopefully encourage other candidates to emerge next year — a year that typically produces the lowest November general election voter interest. A little more competition in politics would be welcome news for taxpayers in a county where Democrats hold 14 of the 15 seats.

V. 1 — The number of Democrats threatened to be kicked out of the Arlington County Democratic Committee. Libby Garvey is likely to be removed for supporting John Vihstadt in the special election. I have not seen the ACDC membership roster, but I suspect Ms. Garvey was not the only Vihstadt supporter on the list. A removal will not prevent her from seeking the Democrats’ nomination in 2016. However, we can only assume it is being done to hamstring her in what will almost certainly be a contested primary.

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

The Right Note: This Lesson Had to be Learned?

by Mark Kelly | April 17, 2014 at 1:30 pm | 1,063 views | No Comments

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

Mark Kelly“Live and learn.” That was the end of County Board Chairman Jay Fisette’s apology for attributing Walter Tejada’s tardiness to the Vihstadt swearing-in ceremony last Friday to “running on Latino time.”

Fisette was apparently shocked that people would find such a stereotype offered up in a public forum by an elected official as insensitive, offensive or insulting?

It would be one thing if Fisette wasn’t a Democrat. Democrats have spent the past five years telling the American people that those opposing policies from President Obama were doing so because they were racially motivated. The day before Fisette inserted foot in mouth, U.S. Rep. Charlie Rangel was doing just that.

Imagine for a moment that John Vihstadt had uttered the same words during his remarks on Friday. The Arlington County Democrats would most certainly have fired off a pointed press release – possibly even calling for Vihstadt to resign. Twitter, Facebook and the ARLnow.com comments section would have exploded with activity.

Does anyone really think Jay Fisette is racist or that he was in any way intentionally trying to offend? No. But, to essentially throw up your hands and say “live and learn” was a disappointing response from someone who should have known better.

Since there seems to be no risk in stating the obvious this week, here are three other lessons to learn from recent events:

Alan Howze’s campaign was built around a central theme of “I am a Democrat, and my opponent is a Republican.” That strategy may have gotten Mr. Howze across the finish line in year’s past. This year, it was destined for failure. The voters who most care about local issues saw right through it.

The election last week also clearly demonstrated that these same voters do not want the trolley to be built, and probably at a higher percentage than the Vihstadt vote. Some die hard Democrats voted for Howze despite not being fans of the project. The County Board may ultimately move forward. However, there are two Board members who are in cycle in another low turnout election in the fall of 2015 who may regret it.

Finally, rumors are swirling that higher than anticipated revenues have Board Members considering a tax rate cut — a move that is long overdue (Ed. note: This column was submitted before the County Board approved a one-cent tax rate cut). However, a one, two or even three-cent rate cut is not a tax cut. It is simply a smaller than anticipated tax increase for most, if not all, Arlingtonians. If your assessment went up by 10 percent or more this year, you may not even call a three-cent rate cut a good start. But, it would beat the alternative.

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

The Right Note: A Victory for Taxpayers?

by Mark Kelly | April 10, 2014 at 1:45 pm | 888 views | No Comments

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

Mark KellyDespite all of the spin by Democrats about low turnout (50 percent higher than the last special election) causing Tuesday’s loss, the message from voters was clear — it is time to shake things up.

One week earlier, Arlington Civic Federation delegates voted by a two-to-one margin to call on the County Board to lower the property tax rate by at least three cents. In the face of rapidly rising assessments, the Civic Federation decided that keeping tax rates level was simply not good enough.

What would that mean to the average homeowner? About $200 less in taxes for the upcoming year.

That level of tax relief might still keep us in first place for highest property tax bills in the region, but it may keep us from permanently cementing our top spot.

One of the first orders of business for new County Board member John Vihstadt will be to vote on setting the tax and spending levels for fiscal 2015. Vihstadt’s convincing 16 percent margin of victory came in a county that just five months ago handed Democrat Terry McAuliffe a 49 percent margin. The result was clearly a mandate to rethink the status quo in county government.

Looking back, Arlington County has not had to make really tough budget decisions like so many local governments have, despite rhetoric to the contrary. Arlington was largely insulated from the worst of the recession because our economy is dependent on the federal government and the contractors, law firms, trade associations and service industries its presence in the region supports. Even with federal spending restraint over the past three years, Arlington’s real estate tax receipts continued to rise.

Because the Board did not have to make really tough decisions, they did not have to take a long hard look at budget priorities. They were able to continue subsidizing the failed Artisphere experiment. They spent more than $1.5 million on a dog park. They moved forward on million dollar bus stops and then drug their feet on producing the report on why it cost so much.

Is it any wonder that long time civic activists finally said enough is enough?

We have very real issues to address moving forward, like school capacity and maintaining our aging infrastructure. If the Board wants to make room for these spending priorities in future budgets, they should re-examine spending priorities now.

Between excess tax revenue already identified for the current year budget, reserve funds, and closeout dollars, the Board can cut the tax rate without endangering any essential services. The only thing providing this tax relief will do is make the County Board work a little harder to finalize the budget and plan for the future.

The voters asked for more fiscal discipline on Tuesday, now we will see if they get it.

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

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