The Right Note: Outrage or Resignation?

by Mark Kelly February 28, 2013 at 12:00 pm 2,120 62 Comments

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column by 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 KellyIt’s a big week in Virginia.

The federal government will see the sequester implemented on Friday, reminding us that despite substantial tax hikes to start this year, we are still far short of balancing our budget.

Our elected officials in Richmond, who for years on a bi-partisan basis raided revenues collected for transportation, have given us a big tax increase to pay for new transportation priorities.

We found out that the Arlington County Manager’s budget will include cuts to public safety — clearly one of the non-negotiable responsibilities of a local government.

We learned that some members of our County Board wanted to nearly double the County Manager’s recommended 3.2 cent real estate tax increase. A 6 cent rate increase would have been advertised if Chris Zimmerman had not been sick with the flu.

In short, as taxpayers, there is a lot to be outraged about these days. But are Arlingtonians outraged?

Here in Arlington, we have seen our tax bills more than double over the past decade or so. Yet, we are informed we cannot afford to pay the same number of public safety officials we paid last year.

We have the money for a swimming pool, but not firemen. We have the money for the artisphere, but not police officers. We have the money to fund about 3,700 county employees — one for every 60 or so Arlingtonians — but we are putting our safety at risk.

The County Manager, who does not live in Arlington, put this budget together and got a $10,000 raise in return. But are we outraged?

A friend of mine emailed me this week and informed me that Arlingtonians were simply willing to continually pay more in taxes for additional services. Based on my experiences attending the annual budget and tax rate hearing, history indicates that my friend is right. Everyone who wants higher taxes and more spending shows up and asks for it. Our Board is only too happy to oblige and identify new ways to spend our money.

But why are Arlingtonians resigned to pay for more but actually get less? In addition to public safety cuts, we continue to pay more in taxes, but don’t meet our ongoing maintenance needs. I am looking forward to the March 27th hearing when we can ask why the Board is willing to finance a trolley but not maintain our emergency services.

Arlingtonians deserve to know why we have to spend more of our tax dollars on vanity projects when we cannot provide the basics.

I hope Arlingtonians will ask the County Board these questions during the budget process this spring and show some outrage rather than another round of resignation.

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

  • LuciferBernanke

    Good article overall….Pay More Get Less is the new mantra of Amerika

  • Kevin Rusch

    get this clown off of my RSS feed.

    • novasteve

      I’m so tolerant! I should have to see things I don’t agree with! Why is he even allowed to have a column? We are so progressive in arlington! Anyone who disagrees is not welcome! I AM SO TOLERANT!

      • jackson

        Calm down. Type slower. I doubt Kelly’s feelings are hurt.

  • Tagliner

    Republicans – the party of OUTRAGE !

  • rootbear911

    Oh, please, get off the “BIG TAX INCREASES” platform. Taxes are going up, yes, but only in response to them being lowered beyond reason during the Bush years. We struck a good balance in the 90’s, and that didn’t stifle innovation or employment, quite the opposite. Mark Kelly is about as disingenuous as they come, and him claiming to know what’s in the hearts and minds of Arlingtonians is laughable.

    • Joe

      Did you read the article? The point wasn’t the raising of taxes, it was the raising of taxes while cutting emergency services and funding more culturally based programs. You could make an argument that Arlingtonians want and deserve those programs, but you chose to ignore the actual point of the article to bash the author.

      • speonjosh

        “culturally based?”
        I guess the Artisphere is culturally based. All $1.5 million of it.
        But I fail to see how the streetcar is culturally based. A swimming pool? I don’t think even that counts as “culturally based.”

  • G Clifford Prout

    Not outraged. But isn’t this just the rate they’re advertising? Not the rate they actually set. Correct me if I’m wrong, but don’t they do that since they can’t enact anything higher than what is advertised?

  • Arlington Chris

    “Public safety — clearly one of the non-negotiable responsibilities of a local government”

    Now, I am all for paying for police officers and fire departments. But why would those be “non-negotiable”? It is such a false and alarming thing to say that something should be “non-negotiable”. Yes, safety is important — and so is education — and so is taking care of homeless people etc.

    All around the country significant cuts are made to police and fire department, sometimes dramatically so where entire police forces are being privatized. These are hard decisions to make — but clearly they can be made and are legitimate.

    Anyway. I’m not judging whether or not Arlington pays to much or to little for public safety — I don’t know. But to say that something is “non-negotiable” is exactly what’s wrong with simple columns like Mr. Kelly’s — they oversimplify the complex decisions that go into Arlington county’s budget.

    • G Clifford Prout

      I could negotiate away those “proactivity expectations” which are NOT quotas.

    • JoshInBallston

      The difference between “non-negotiable” and “negotiable” are services provided to those paying the taxes and subsidies for services to others who receive those services disproportionate to what they pay (if they pay at all).

      For example, public safety is non-negotiable because all taxpayers receive protection from police, fire, etc. The Artisphere, however, is not because only a small percent of the taxpayers may use it yet it is subsidized by everyone.

      And finally, taking care of the homeless as you mentioned is also negotiable because the homeless receiving the services are not paying taxes to support it. It is the rest of us paying for it, who by definition are not able to avail ourselves of it. They only receive those services because there is a surplus after the services the taxpayers use is paid for.

      When cuts need to be made, it is certainly acceptable to distinguish between those services the vast majority of taxpayers use and the ones that are mere “nice-to-haves.”

      • speonjosh

        The problem with the “services disproportionate” argument is that it pretty quickly breaks down.
        If I don’t have kids, do I not benefit from having an educated population?

        How, exactly, do I benefit from the NSA spying on Americans without court approval? I paid for it, though.

        I don’t know what my share of a billion dollar aircraft carrier is, but do I get that much marginal security from knowing it exists?

        If I promise never to drive on I-10, can I have my portion of the taxes that built it returned to me?

        Would I want to refuse helping to pay for a hospital and take the chance that I never have to receive treatment at one?

        I guess you can point out that you never go to the Artisphere and be outraged that 5 cents of your money (or whatever) went to support it, but I’m not sure you get anywhere. Like, what next? Send out questionnaires to every taxpayer?

        This is why representative democracy was invented in the first place. The world is too complicated for direct democracy.

        • ACDC Hack

          I would put a fresh rutabaga up against any of the current members of the board in an intelligence test……my money would be on the vegetable.

          Now note: I am talking about intelligence not cunning.

      • tce

        Reminds me of the arguments the air traffic controllers made in the 80’s… ‘can’t fire us because we’re indispensable to the air traffic system…’ (my dad worked for the FAA back then). They fired them all and went from 14k controllers to 8k… turns out the doom and gloom predictions were false.

        Same problem with groups like Police and Fire. They always predict the worst will happen if you so much as cut a single dollar from them. The point is nothing is ‘non-negotiable’… anything can be cut as long as you’ve done your homework and decided it’s not really needed. The County just needs to make sure they show and justify the cut. (I’m not taking a stand one way or the other just yet until more details are released.)

        • ARL

          But the ATC firings certainly led to a major disruption in air travel. It wasn’t a disaster, and we handled it, but it sucked. They weren’t “indispensable” but they were very important. It would have been preferable to solve the problem without a strike/mass firing.

          • tce

            Agreed, but the point is they weren’t indispendable as they claimed… a distruption is one thing but the firings did not lead to safety issues. Likewise if the County can prove that the cuts will not lead to safety issues then fine, make the cuts.

          • Josh S

            You can’t prove a negative.
            I suspect that most of this discussion about cuts to the police and/or fire departments is being done absent some crucial pieces of information. What if they cut three meter maids?
            What if they simply don’t fill the next three open vacancies?
            What if they give early retirement to three officers?
            I would tend to believe that this sort of thing is exactly what is being considered and that losing three patrol officers is the last thing on the table.
            It is the failure to acknowledge this kind of possibility that makes pundits like Mark Kelly counterproductive to the county’s (and nation’s) civic discourse.

          • flux

            The correct number is 7 officers. Please stop assuming others have not read the budget justifications just because you have not.

          • tce

            just fyi… that’s 7 officers from the ‘District Teams’… leaving 12 FTE’s for that unit… while the ‘Patrol Section’ still has 187 FTE’s. So the real question is what is the District Team and what is the impact with fewer officers in it compared to the Patrol Section?

          • Josh S

            Does it matter to the substance of my argument? Not at all.
            Fully willing to concede the fact.

          • tce

            That’s my whole point… if they can show the types of cuts they are proposing are not going to impact saftey then go for it. But others here seem to claim you can’t make ANY cut to police/fire because it impacts safety and then try to claim you can’t prove otherwise. Those types of cuts you list don’t seem to be safety issues so if the board was proposing those then they can prove there’s not impact to safety… I just hate people that claim you can’t prove it so leave it alone.

        • flux

          You can’t expect the county to prove that the cuts will not reduce public safety, just like nobody can claim that they will reduce public safety. That’s just a silly way of arguing. I guess we will come back next April and see if crime went up, and if it did try to figure out why.

          My contention all along has been that police and fire services need to follow proportionally with population growth. A rough correlation exists. And as Arlington keeps growing, they will end up restoring these positions in the near future. But meanwhile you’ve lost employees that you invested in to train. That lost money. I don’t think that’s efficient.

          • tce

            But my point is that you can make the argument you just did about every service in the county… as the population grows service demands increase (I don’t care if it’s for public works or police…) but if the county can show that the cut is not going to impact safety somehow then make the cut. I don’t see why you think this is silly… It’s a totally valid discussion point… and in the case of police and fire is one of the most important ones.
            Why would you consider a discussion of safety impact silly? What else would you base the discussion on?

          • flux

            I was talking only about police and fire. I don’t agree that you can have the proportional argument about all parts of the budget equally. Cutting rec department staff is not on the save level as cutting police or fire. It’s just not. If you don’t agree with that, this discussion is pointless.

          • tce

            So if I disagree with you something is pointless??? Guess what, I do disagree with you. Cutting something in police/fire that can be shown to not impact public saftety is no worse than cutting something in parks. So it’s not a pointless discussion.

          • flux

            The impact of the cuts is less emphasis on crime prevention. It’s right there in the County’s budget proposal. I would hardly say that would have no impact on public safety. Can you say that? Can you predict the future?

            Let’s just agree to come back here next year and see if crime went up because they didn’t focus on crime prevention, OK. That’s really the only way we will know. 🙂

          • tce

            Nor can they predict that it will impact safety… and as I pointed out I wasn’t taking a stand one way or the other but merely pointing out how this was similar to the ATC’s and FAA… The controller’s predicted doom… the FAA tried to show there wouldn’t be a safety issue with reduced controllers. One side used fear tactics while the other tried to use analysis and logic. The FAA tried to prove that there would be no impact and were proven right in the end.
            By your argument one side is not allowed to make a case for no impact no matter what. I’m simply stating I want to give them a chance to prove it.

          • speonjosh

            Well, it’s not the only way. We can look at similar jurisdictions that made the same choices and see what happened there. We could go back in ARlington’s history and see what crime was like when the force looked like it is proposed to look.

          • lkj

            I believe the cuts will come from attrition – and reassigning district officers as they consolidate police districts. For fire I believe it is also through attrition – so you don’t lost the investment in trained employees.

  • Nothing signals a Serious Essay like tossing around modifiers and empty assertions rather than facts. “Substantial tax hikes” and “big tax increase” along with “cuts to public safety” and “money for a swimming pool, but not firemen.”

    Of course, go look at the budget and we see that these supposed cuts are really increases. In the fire department we have “a two percent increase from the FY 2013 adopted budget” and there’s an additional $200,000 in spending because of successful grants. Police funding up 1%. Both groups have had pay adjusted to make us competitive with other municipalities.

    Since there’s no specifics on the swimming pool I can only assume this is over the bond issue. Which was successfully passed by citizen vote, but I guess acknowledging that doesn’t fit well when you’re trying to demonize the opposition party.

    Those “big” and “substantial” tax hikes which Kelly whines about at the open are both admittedly beyond the reach of Arlington elected officials, but hey, why actually address the actions of the people you’re supposedly cranked up about? Oh, probably because the actual Arlington impact amounts up to an average of $22 a month. Which I’d just as soon keep in my pocket too, but if Kelly is going to complain about that maybe he shouldn’t, you know, LIE about what we’re actually getting for it.

    • novasteve

      YOu mean how like democrats lie about republicans wanting to ban birth control? Or how democrats lie about “assault weapons”being automatic weapons? Or their lie about a gender pay gap being from willful discrimination?

      • drax

        Some Republicans do want to ban birth control, and others to reduce access to it.

        The gender gap is not entirely due to willful discrimination, but part of it is. That’s a smaller gender gap, but it’s still a gap.

        • novasteve

          There are all sorts of gender gaps that favor women, yet aren’t national issues like life expectancy, medical research budgets, college enrollments, and on the job fatalities.
          Some democrats want to have a draft. Should I accuse all democrats of that like is done with republicans and birth control? And all throughout the 2012 election, we were told about a “War on women” primarily focusing on claiming that forcing women to spend $9/month on birth control at Target is the same as banning it. Funny how a law student can afford fancy clothes, shoes, cell phones etc, but not $9 a month.

          • drax

            No, nobody ever said forcing women to buy birth control = banning it.

            Forcing women to pay for something they should get through health insurance they already work for is outrageous, but it’s not a ban.

            The war on women was as much about what was said about women who dared to demand coverage for birth control as the coverage itself (which, of course, covers men equally, since birth control is for couples, for reasons you’ll have to figure out yourself).

          • novasteve

            Why are there things that women should get at zero copay and thus the cost is completely pass onto others whereas there’s nothing that men are “entitled” to at zero copay? Why is a woman’s birth control more important than say a man’s treatment for liver disease or diabetes?

          • Suburban Not Urban

            That’s my argument also, why should the pill be free, and something like heart meds not, it’s a slippery slope. The point of copay’s is so you understand that there is a cost involved, so you don’t waste it.

          • novasteve

            It’s because democrats are pandering, giving special benefits to certain groups, to create a divide and conquer thing, and if you don’t support them, you are engaging in a “War on ….” Parents with children who have leukemia or hemophelia have to pay a copay, but not a grown woman for medication that isn’t necessary to save their lives, and only costs $9 a month.

    • flux

      So the police budget is getting increased, and they intend to cut staff and focus less on crime prevention. Sorry, that’s a budget philosophy I just can not support.

  • AS

    That guy has some good talking points. He should run for office… Oh, wait he has several times and has been universally rejected by the electorate. Face it. There are more of ‘them’ then there are of you. And ‘They’ are getting what they want and what they are asking for. Disagree all you want, but we live in a democratic society and the majority has spoken.

    • Heyo

      “But we live in a democratic society and I’ll disapprove of you voicing your contradictory opinions to my own”

      • Josh S

        Why the quotation marks? Who are you quoting?

    • novasteve

      Something tells me you wouldn’t care if the majority had spoken if it wasn’t to your liking on issues like same sex marriage.

      • drax

        Something tells me you can’t ever stay on topic.

    • Democratic voter

      But it’s not like we’re just “us” or “them.” We’re people, and we have complex ideas about complex issues, and we can change our minds too. I didn’t elect these guys to just do whatever they want, no matter what.

  • Josh S

    I guess it partly depends on your definition of basics. I would definitely count the provision of public transit as basic.
    He complains about too many county employees in one breath but then complains that some may lose their job in the next breath.
    What percentage of the total police and / or fire departments stand to lose their jobs?
    If the police force were decreased by 3 or 4 or 5 (can’t remember what the projected number is), what evidence is there that this would actually decrease public safety?
    Since the proposed budget that includes possible cuts to the police and fire departments is for one year – FY2014 and neither the streetcar nor the aquatics center will be built in that year, how is spending on the two related? Or, put another way, if the county announced tomorrow that it would never build a streetcar or aquatics center, would this mean that the FY14 budget wouldn’t still have to be balanced?
    It’s pandering, it’s smoke and mirrors, it’s fear mongering. It’s not honest debate.

  • novasteve

    Mr Kelly should change his last name to (D) to improve his odds of winning in a future election here.

    • dk (not DK)

      Mr. Kelly will never get MY vote, no matter what letter he amends to his name, so long as one of his largest political donors is Helen Blackwell, the Virginia affiliate to Phyllis Schlafly’s Eagle Forum.

  • Apologies to Mark, an editing error resulted in the rates being expressed as “%” rather than “cent” in the originally-published version.

    • ArLater

      Whatever happened to our Independent guy, ArlNow?

      • Jason recently started a new job and says his work obligations don’t leave him with enough time to complete the weekly column. We’re currently looking for a suitable replacement.

        • novasteve

          How about get a libertarian?

        • question

          I guess Mark doesn’t have / need a job then? earned his $ the old fashioned way – inherited it?

        • speonjosh

          That’s the best news yet. The guy had little to add.
          You guys should require a writing sample before signing the next person up. Seriously.

  • ph7

    “Here in Arlington, we have seen our tax bills more than double over the past decade or so.”

    I assume you mean property tax. My home assessment has doubled in the last decade, so the reality is the tax rate has remained the same.

    I’d gladly to accept the increased tax (which is tax deductible) if it comes along with a doubling of the value of a major asset in amount more than 10x the increased tax paid over those ten years (and which is tax-free for the first $500K capital gain).

  • John Fontain

    At the risk of offending at least 50% of you, if you don’t agree with this common-sense-filled column you are nuts!

  • realreform

    “Public Safety” means a million police officers with nothing to do but bust food street car vendors for parking over 90 minutes and doing “sting” operations to bust people for petty crimes such as jaywalking. Just go into a General District Court one day and see all of the ridiculous preliminary hearing and adjudicatory hearings for simple marijuana possession and other petty crimes. Then they are given a court appointed attorney (at the taxpayers expense) and are put in jail for a short while (again, at taxpayers expense), which does not teach them anything, but simply warehouses them together with even worse criminals which rub off on them and probably causes even more crime when they get out. What we need to do is stop pursing cases like that so we wouldn’t need to hire a million police officers, many of which get “specialty” positions after only a few years and aren’t even working on the streets anymore.

  • southarlington

    Quick question for all you commentors and maybe Arlnow…I was wondering about the Long Branch fields why is Arlington Soccer Association not allowed to practice on them or better yet South Arlington even though they were built for the public and with tax payers money…My concern then is, is this going to be the same with the pool complex that they are building is it going to be more about making money and renting it out then letting the public …tax payers use it ….

    • Pete B

      I think that’s a valid concern, given that membership fees to the pool are going to run several hundred dollars per month (according to results of the 2004 “survey” commissioned for the purpose of justifying Long Branch.)

  • Courthouse Diva

    Wow! A govie who gets a $10,000 and is County Manager for a county he doesn’t bother to live in. Interesting.

  • Jack

    Great article! The taxi increases and public safety reductions are just a one-party tax — the cost of a one-party government and lack of an independent Inspector General. If you have a heart attack, call the trolley, Artisphere, aquatic center, homeless shelter, ART bus, Loop Bridge…..

  • R

    I’ve never understood this line of complaining here.

    I moved here 3 years ago. It’s the best place I’ve ever lived. The county services are awesome and the schools are top notch. My property taxes are almost the same as they were back in my previous city, despite living in a house that’s valued at about twice as much. There’s virtually no crime. Seems like a good situation to me.


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