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by Mark Kelly — September 18, 2014 at 1:00 pm 582 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 Kelly

ARLnow reported yesterday that the Arlington County Board will consider a $26 million contract for the planning and construction management of the Columbia Pike streetcar project. It is another sign that the current Board has no intention of changing course unless voters toss them out.

Here are some questions that need to be answered before the Board votes to award this contract:

Why are we sending $26 million to the same company who handled planning and construction management for the D.C. streetcar project? While it may be operational later this fall, the first two and a half miles of a proposed 22-mile system in DC has repeatedly been delayed.

Should we rely on this company to have learned from multiple false starts, broken promises and bad PR? In other words, how do we know they will get it right this time?

What is the proposed timeline for completion? Are there penalties in the contract for failing to meet a timeline or incentives for meeting it? What about incentives for meeting the projected budget?

Is there a way for the County Board to buy out the contract without paying the full $26 million if the Board opts to scrap the project later — say if the 2015 elections produce an anti-trolley majority?

If this $26 million contract is for 30 percent of the design, what does that mean the ultimate design costs will be? Does anyone know or are they willing to tell us?

And a slightly more tongue-in-cheek question may be, should this move by the pro-trolley majority be considered an in-kind contribution to the Vihstadt re-election campaign? Injecting a contract of this size into the public discourse just six weeks from Election Day is certainly curious timing.

Speaking of Vihstadt, one thing is for sure: both he and Libby Garvey will come to Tuesday night’s meeting armed with these and many more serious questions about the contract. If you have questions you believe should be answered about moving forward with this contract, feel free to email your Board members. You can find their email addresses here: http://countyboard.arlingtonva.us/county-board-members/.

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

by Mark Kelly — September 11, 2014 at 3:45 pm 522 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 KellyMy story of Sept. 11 was in no way heroic or unique. But, like most Arlingtonians who lived here that day, it is still vividly etched in my mind.

My wife and I boarded a plane bound for Washington early on the morning of Sept. 11 after spending a long weekend in Florida. Little did I know that hundreds of my fellow Americans were doing the same, but they would never land safely back on the ground.

When our wheels touched down at Reagan National that morning, the first plane had struck the World Trade Center in New York. As we deplaned and went to catch a cab to the office on Capitol Hill, the second plane struck the second tower.

Capitol Hill was buzzing with the news when we arrived. Soon, I learned of what had happened in New York, and like so many of us watched the television in disbelief.

Not long after arriving at my office just across the street from the Capitol, there were reports of an explosion at the Pentagon which turned out to be terrorists flying American Airlines Flight #77 into the building. My wife looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “they are coming here next.”

As we evacuated our office, the beautiful blue sky was soon filled with the sounds of fighter jets that had been scrambled to DC as well as black smoke billowing from the Pentagon.

When we learned later that United Airlines Flight #93 had gone down in Pennsylvania, we had no doubt that it was en route back to the Washington area. I cannot help but think that those passengers may have saved my life.

A few hours later, we caught a ride with a friend back across the Potomac to our condo in Pentagon City. The next morning, a thin layer of soot covered my car and the smell of smoke still lingered in the air. It was a chilling reminder of what had happened and the loss so many families were feeling just 24 hours after starting their Tuesday like normal.

The hill beside our building became a makeshift memorial, as people would gather each evening to look down on the Pentagon and the huge American flag draped near the devastation that took place there. People would gather, watch, cry and pray.

Thirteen years ago we were attacked because we were Americans. In the attacks, 2,977 died and thousands more were injured. In response, we saw America rally in remarkable ways as a nation.

When we visit the Pentagon Memorial or when I drive by the piece of steel from ground zero at Arlington County Fire Station 5, I remember. I do not know how we will commemorate Sept. 11 50 years from now, but I know it will still be worth remembering.

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

by Mark Kelly — September 4, 2014 at 1:30 pm 606 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 Kelly

Yesterday’s report that Arlington County policy may leave First Amendment protesters subject to arbitrarily enforced rules should give us all pause.

The actual wording of the special events policy would apply to “one or more persons” with even just the “propensity to attract a crowd.” The remedy for police, presumably, would be to tell a small group or individual to go home or face a fine of indeterminate size.

As reported here in ARLnow, some sort of administrative language from county staff is supposed to be forthcoming to clarify the policy. Those holding up signs outside of a political event they disagree with may not be subject to its enforcement. In the the meantime, county staff’s current policy toward its enforcement is effectively “trust us,” according to yesterday’s report.

The reality is the policy as written could conceivably give the county the ability to decide on a case-by-case basis whether it applies and to which group — or even a single individual. It opens the door for county staff to make that determination based on the content of the speech. Imagine, for example, the county staff or Arlington Police Department gets a call from an angry Board Member whose event is being protested.

Giving the Board the benefit of the doubt, let’s assume it was not their intent to prohibit concerned citizens from peacefully or spontaneously protesting. Hopefully, Board members will have county staff recommendations on the policy by the time of the September Board meeting.

But, it should have never been passed without more specific clarifying language. As written, it may take more than a county staff clarification to effectively protect Arlingtonians from potential abuses. The Board itself should probably re-address the issue.

Next time, maybe someone will stop and think about what wording of a policy actually means before they pass it. There should be no question as to whether diversity of political opinion will be welcome in Arlington.

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

by Mark Kelly — August 28, 2014 at 1:15 pm 663 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 Kelly

ARLnow.com asked its readers this week to opine on whether or not riders on the new trolley line should have to pay for the ride — assuming the line is built that is.

When I took online the poll, just 54 percent of 1,000 respondents said “no” to subsidizing riders. 46 percent voted to subsidize it temporarily or permanently. While not a scientific poll, 46 percent seemed high based on the reasons we are told that new rapid transit buses on Columbia Pike are not the solution.

On top of that list of main selling points is that more people will WANT to ride the trolley who do not currently pay to take the bus. If people will gladly give up the frustrations of driving their car in favor of a shiny new trolley, why would we need to provide monetary incentives to entice them to do it?

Apparently, 46 percent of ARLnow readers are not convinced that if we build it, they will come. In fact, the more interesting question may have been, would you ride the trolley without a free fare?

Granted, this is an academic discussion for now. The notion of making the trolley a free ride came about from a debate about light rail in Virginia Beach. But, with ridership not meeting projections virtually everywhere across the U.S. this experiment has been tried, rest assured the thought of reduced or no fares has crossed someone’s mind in Arlington.

If we are going to give a preference to trolley riders, why not make the Metro free? Or bus rides free? Or at least, we could knock a $1 off of all those fares as well.

We do now live in a county that seems to be on a path to buy every child in Arlington’s schools a Macbook Air — or maybe just an iPad. Our budgets are so comfortably padded that we are apparently paying for this year’s Macbook Air purchase with money that was just lying around at APS unused.

Compared to the half-billion price tag to get the complete trolley line installed, the fare subsidy would really only be chump change. Of course, there’s an applicable old saying about government spending that goes something like this, “the problem is, sooner or later, you run out of other people’s money.”

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

by Mark Kelly — August 21, 2014 at 2:10 pm 522 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 Kelly

What can we expect from our newly elected delegate?

When asked what his first piece of legislation would be during the debate held at George Mason’s Arlington campus, Rip Sullivan said he would introduce a bill to force a trolley referendum. Based on the way he almost forgot to mention it that night, we can probably only expect at best a half-hearted attempt at bringing a referendum to a vote.

His second piece of legislation he said, would be an attempt to change the laws regarding special elections. It is very unlikely this is the highest priority of his new constituents. A higher priority would seem to be to replace an elected representative as quickly as possible on the constituents’ behalf.

Rip’s tenure will start in the upcoming special session of the General Assembly when they will consider the expansion of Medicaid. I think it is fair to say that he supports expanding Medicaid in virtually any way, shape or form.

To give some perspective, Medicaid currently costs almost $9 billion a year and consumes about 22 percent of our general fund budget in Virginia. It is the fastest-growing part of our budget, growing at an average of 8 percent annually. Medicaid is already on track to siphon off resources from education and transportation even if the federal government can find a way to pay for 90 percent of it forever.

Studies have also shown that because of Medicaid’s low reimbursement rates, hospitals pass that cost along to private insurance which raises our premiums — one 2008 study pegged the cost shift at $1,800 per year for a private plan. Driving 400,000 more people onto Medicaid’s rolls will not simply be “free money” for Virginia. It will cost all of us over and above what we already pay in taxes and what our federal government borrows to cover the $500 billion deficit.

But, what does Medicaid do for patients?

Evidence is mounting that Medicaid does not improve health outcomes for the patients who are on it, even versus the uninsured. A University of Virginia study found that surgical patients on Medicaid are 13 percent more likely to die before leaving the hospital than those with no insurance. Compared to those with private insurance, the number is 97 percent.

The UVA study follows a Harvard study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that studied Medicaid patients in Oregon. The results indicated Medicaid “generated no significant improvement in measured physical health outcomes.”

This Wall Street Journal article outlines other studies on where Medicaid falls short. Head and neck cancer, heart procedures, and lung transplant patients were all found to be worse off.

Some counter that Medicaid is better than no coverage at all. But with fewer doctors accepting Medicaid patients, less than half according to this survey, many will be be counted as “covered” despite being unable to find a primary care physician.

While Rip found a good talking point to help get his fellow Democrats to the polls on Tuesday, Medicaid is simply not a desirable form of health insurance coverage for Virginians.

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

by Mark Kelly — August 7, 2014 at 1:30 pm 599 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 Kelly

It’s county fair time in Arlington, and the County Board and Congress have hung a “gone fishing” sign on the door until September. As we relax a little for a month before school starts again, it is a good weekend to head out to Thomas Jefferson Middle School and ride the ferris wheel, eat something deep fried and take in the pig races.

There is also a good chance you will run into one of our elected officials, or an aspiring one. That means you should have your questions primed and ready to go.

School Board members will certainly hear about the proposed new elementary school locations. It might also be interesting to hear from them whether the contingency plans are in place for any influx of new students as a result of the ongoing border crossings by unaccompanied children.

It would be interesting to hear from our General Assembly members what they view will be the permanent solution to give Uber and Lyft the ability to operate in Virginia. And, you can ask whether they truly believe the federal government will continue to subsidize Medicaid expansion to the tune of 90 percent. If not, how would they intend to pay for it? Raise taxes? Decrease school funding? Take dollars out of transportation?

If you run into one of County Board members, there is plenty to ask about. Even if the trolley looked like a good idea a decade ago, can they admit that the information we have now is different? Why not take into account the increased cost and decreased ridership from other places that implemented light rail and re-evaluate their decision to move forward? Will they stop wasting our tax dollars on a trolley public relations campaign? Speaking of wasteful spending, why not make the auditor position a truly independent one that will report directly to the Board?

With the special election right around the corner, here are a couple ideas to ask Rip Sullivan, candidate in the 48th legislative district:

  • Did you really tell the Fairfax Chamber you thought the trolley referendum would not come to a vote in the General Assembly? Does that mean you will be unable to get a vote for it if you are elected or that you will not actually try?
  • Do you honestly believe you have a better chance to get things done for Arlington with the Republican majority in Richmond than Dave Foster?
  • Why did you tell the Blue Virginia blog you supported a carbon tax and reinstating the estate tax but then tell the Fairfax Chamber it was not time to raise taxes?

Do not be shy. They decided to run for office to represent you.

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

by Mark Kelly — July 31, 2014 at 2:00 pm 459 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 KellyNew County Board member John Vihstadt is making a difference.

In response to the latest spending waste — the P.R. campaign to promote the trolley — he asked why the Board did not get to vote on the contract. The response he got was nothing but legalese.

Vihstadt, supported by Libby Garvey, proposed that the Board vote on any contract over $1 million in the future. Even the three “vote trolley” majority could not shoot him down on this common sense proposal.

Now, maybe Vihstadt can do something about the County Board funding meaningless surveys. This week it was announced that the Board believes Arlington residents approve of its housing policies. Those policies have done little to stop the loss of affordable housing stock, but of course they sound good when asked the right way on a telephone survey.

This latest survey ranks right up there with the survey the Board produces regularly to say Arlington residents like the services they get. It is completely useless to learn anything, but it makes them feel better. Funny though, the Board has never produced a survey to say whether Arlingtonians would approve or disapprove of the trolley project if given a vote on it.

Next up, the Board must get the promised County auditor function up and running — an auditor who should be reporting directly to the Board. Until that happens, the Board should ask County Manager to direct the auditor to identify at least 10 substantial ways the Board can trim the county budget for next year. Identifying more than 10 would be better, but it would be a good start.

Finally, our Board should do something about how the bond measures are placed on the ballot. In 2012, the average voter had no idea funding for the aquatics center was in the parks and recreation bond. The County Board should tell the voters exactly what they are voting on. And, if more than $10 million is going to one specific project, why not give Arlingtonians the opportunity to vote straight up or down on it as a standalone measure?

Transparency and accountability are good things. The Board should always be looking for ways to embrace them more.

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

by Mark Kelly — July 24, 2014 at 2:00 pm 607 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 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.

by Mark Kelly — July 17, 2014 at 2:30 pm 1,076 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 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.

by Mark Kelly — July 10, 2014 at 1:00 pm 896 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 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.

by Mark Kelly — July 3, 2014 at 3:00 pm 1,145 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 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.

by Mark Kelly — June 26, 2014 at 1:30 pm 1,635 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 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.

by Mark Kelly — June 19, 2014 at 1:30 pm 924 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 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.

by Mark Kelly — June 12, 2014 at 2:00 pm 619 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 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.

by Mark Kelly — May 29, 2014 at 1:30 pm 495 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 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.

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