On Tuesday, the Arlington County Board bypassed the longest serving member of the Board not to serve as its chair, independent John Vihstadt, in order to elect Democrat Katie Cristol. Congratulations are in order for the first millennial to take the center seat.
But hopefully voters will return Vihstadt to the Board this fall, and then the Board will give him the opportunity to serve as its chair in his next term.
As Board chair, Cristol is broadly given the opportunity to set the agenda for the year. However, as with every chair, the term is only for one year. It is difficult for anyone in this position to drive even a single pet project through the process in a year.
Cristol, like every Board chair before her, gave the opening speech about her priorities. The speech not only gave a shout out to Odysseus, but provided a lengthy laundry list of issues facing the county. It included everything you can imagine, from community engagement, to housing, to access to childcare and Metro, among many others.
The speech was fine, but it was a missed opportunity to focus like a laser on doing some big things right.
Cristol discussed working for dedicated funding for Metro. Where was the call for Metro to be completely overhauled in a way that warranted our confidence in a long-term funding solution?
Cristol discussed a desire for real growth in our local economy that did not just rely on landing the big fish with economic development incentives. Where was the statement that the time for excuses was over and that by the time the Board met next January, county staff would not be trying to improve processes, but that processes are actually improved? What about ending the regressive BPOL tax?
Cristol referenced the fake “budget gaps.” Where was the commitment to budget process reforms that stopped spending away the annual surplus?
Cristol also took a swipe the “still-unknown” impacts of the recently passed tax reform bill. We know one impact. Many Arlingtonians rushed to advance pay their next property tax bill in late December, hoping they could count it against their 2017 taxes. In doing so, they also hoped to be able to deduct up to $10,000 of state income taxes in 2018.
Why are they doing that? Because the average tax bill could top $7,500 in Arlington in 2018. By comparison, the Virginia average is just under $2,000. The national average is about $2,150.
In other words, we pay a lot to live here. And largely wealthy residents, of all political stripes, are hoping to reduce their federal tax burden as much as possible. Cristol could have made it a priority to keep property tax increases in check via responsible spending. She didn’t.