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Peter’s Take: Budget Priorities After the Streetcar

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

Peter RousselotOn Nov. 18, four members of the Arlington County Board (Jay Fisette, Mary Hynes, Libby Garvey and John Vihstadt) voted to cancel Arlington’s $500 million+ streetcar projects. I commend Jay Fisette and Mary Hynes for this statesman-like vote.

For all of the reasons outlined on the website www.sensibletransit.org of Arlingtonians for Sensible Transit (AST), the vote to cancel Arlington’s streetcar projects also was the right decision as a matter of transportation policy — as Garvey and Vihstadt recognized previously.

On Nov. 18, the County Board also issued guidance to the County Manager to prepare the County’s FY 2016 operating budget.

Although a majority of the Board now has voted to cancel Arlington’s streetcar projects, the Board’s new budget guidance continues to reflect many other flawed priorities of County Board members Fisette, Hynes, and Tejada. Fisette, Hynes and Tejada still have the votes on our five-member Board to pass budget guidance that incorporates priorities that are wrong for Arlington.

Here are some examples of alternative budget guidance that our County Board should have given the County Manager, but failed to give:

  • our highest priority is to fund Arlington Public Schools (including incremental funds to address the school capacity crisis);
  • the School Board has asked the County Board to increase its transfer to APS to cover the cost of enrollment growth, a step increase for its employees and to eliminate early release days at the four remaining schools that still provide early release. The County’s actual budget guidance will leave APS with a shortfall of $23.8 million; that $23.8 million shortfall should be restored;
  • redirect funding toward other core services such as basic infrastructure maintenance (roads, water mains, sewers), sensible transit, and public safety; finance this redirection of funds by comparable cuts in other programs and operations;
  • working collaboratively with Fairfax and Alexandria, retain truly independent transportation experts to prepare an operating plan for a robust regional BRT system serving the Columbia Pike, Route 1/Crystal City, and other appropriate transit corridors;
  • provide alternative plans for use of the $80+ million currently set aside for the capital costs of the Aquatics Center because we have decided to cancel this project as it is currently designed; Arlington cannot afford to pay the currently estimated $4 million per year to operate such a facility.
  • provide a cut in the property tax rate of no less than 1 cent.

Conclusion

Like every other community in America, Arlington must set priorities for how it spends its money. If everything is a priority, nothing truly can be a priority. Leadership involves explaining why some programs and projects must be cut in order to fully fund other programs and projects that have a higher priority.

Many of Arlington’s priorities are right. Certain of Arlington’s priorities are wrong. Arlington should continue to change those of its priorities that are wrong.

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

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