Press Club

Progressive Voice: Regional Factors Present a Challenge to Arlington

Larry RobertsBy Larry Roberts

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of their organizations or ARLnow.com.

This week, progressive Democratic leaders from the three DMV jurisdictions appeared on stage together at a Capital Region Business Forum held in McLean. Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, and Maryland State Senate President Mike Miller were at times both cooperative and competitive in discussing how the region and each jurisdiction can move forward successfully.

The topics discussed will have major ramifications for Arlington in the years ahead.

All three leaders are committed to growing the region’s economy and enhancing its competitiveness in a global economy.

They did not view business only through the lens of lower taxes and less regulation. They identified other issues key to our region’s economic future — transportation, K-12 education, research and entrepreneurship, higher education, affordable housing, environmental sustainability, green space, access to health care. They also view economic success being dependent on regional cooperation and coordination.

They see a continued influx of residents to the District of Columbia. Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William Counties will continue to grow rapidly. Maryland will move more aggressively to match successes in Virginia and the District.

All spoke of diversifying an economy too heavily dependent on federal spending. They emphasized the importance of foreign investment in our region and a vibrant tourism sector.

These initiatives will have consequences — likely dramatic ones — for Arlington, whether we choose to engage them or not.

There will be increasing pressure for moving more cars through Arlington unless we are fully engaged regionally and with Richmond to develop multimodal solutions that work for outer jurisdictions and show a willingness to contribute resources.

Our top-tier schools will attract more families to Arlington for educational opportunities. In response, we can grow our commercial tax base to support increased school enrollment or pay higher residential taxes to fund education. Or we can be involved in regional efforts to promote educational excellence in other jurisdictions to ease some of the growth pressure on Arlington’s schools.

We can compete nationally and internationally for new and innovative business opportunities through investments in Arlington Economic Development, or we will see other jurisdictions strengthen their commercial tax base while ours remains stagnant or declines.

We can work aggressively on housing affordability and affordable housing issues, or we can see more people priced out of Arlington, as its location near the District and regional population growth pushes land values higher.

As we enter a new year in Arlington, we can expect to see renewed emphasis on scrubbing our budget to reduce spending, concerns about changes that have come to Arlington, and a desire to keep things the way they have been.

Yet as other jurisdictions grow in population and economic strength, we risk being without a seat at the table as decisions are made and priorities are set if we miss the larger picture.

There has been much talk about the need for strategic planning in Arlington. My hope is that such planning will include an intense focus on how we can most effectively play a key role in state government and the Capital Region.

A heavily internal focus will mean that changes all around us will not work to our advantage and we will have a harder time maintaining our level of success.

Historically, Arlington has “punched above its weight class” through its intelligent planning, creative use of resources, willingness to place resources behind priorities, care for others, an understanding of the economic power of diversity and inclusion, sound finances, a strong commercial sector, excellent schools, multimodal transportation investments, unity of purpose, and political will.

Remembering what has made us great, looking for ways to improve, and engaging more fully in state and regional issues will all be necessary to ensure a bright future for Arlington.

We can only retain the best and most important unique qualities and values that have defined Arlington if we are fully cognizant of, willing to engage in, and help shape the significant change ahead for our Commonwealth and our region.

Larry Roberts is a 30-year resident of Arlington and an attorney in private practice. He chaired two successful statewide campaigns and is a former Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee.

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