The Right Note: Talk is Cheap

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

Mark KellyI ended last week’s column with my New Year’s resolution for the County Board, a no waste county budget. It reminded me of the first column I wrote for one year ago.

In it, I commented on the false choice Chris Zimmerman often offers to Arlingtonians. If you have listened to his speeches, he often paints a picture that people either believe the government is capable of doing good things or nothing at all.

Nearly all Americans believe that government is necessary. On the local level for example, that means public safety, transportation, infrastructure, schools and parks. At the same time, most Americans also believe government at all levels can be inefficient and, at times, wasteful.

So, when fiscal conservatives object to projects in Arlington like the Artisphere or the trolley, it is not because we do not like for government to do anything. Rather, it is because we prefer a government that is more fiscally responsible with our tax dollars.

The Board Members do recognize the fact people want government to spend their tax dollars wisely — at least in their speeches. If you listened to what was said at last week’s meeting, you may have noted an interesting line in Walter Tejada’s nomination speech of Jay Fisette. In it, Tejada half-jokingly referred to his colleague as “cheap” — to suggest that Fisette is prudent with taxpayer resources.

Both Fisette and Mary Hynes repeated the “prudent” theme in their speeches — pointing to the County’s triple-AAA bond rating as proof. That, next to citing low tax rates when our actual tax bills are not the lowest in the region, is one of the most-used pieces of spin by Board Members to look like they are fiscally disciplined in their governance.

If you know much about the bond rating agencies, they are much like personal credit rating agencies. The number one issue for them when looking at Arlington’s “credit worthiness” is our ability to pay our debts in the future. The Washington, D.C., region was given a negative outlook when the federal government pulled back its spending levels because the federal government is our main “industry.” Arlington’s rating remains the same because our elected officials are willing to continually raise our taxes to pay our bond obligations.

A million dollar bus stop, or ongoing subsidies at the Artisphere, or the doubling of subsidy requirements for an aquatics center (now on hold because of escalating cost estimates) are what you get from a County Board that talks about fiscal discipline without a real commitment to it. It seems that in reality — talk is cheap, but our County Board isn’t.

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

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