Arlington, VA

The Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

The post budget spin offered by Arlington officials defies common sense.

As both the general budget and the school budget increased by 6.3%, here is what
Board Chairman Christian Dorsey had to say,

“I would think about this not as government getting smaller, but as government getting
smarter.”

What he should have said:

Arlingtonians should not think of government getting smaller, because it got bigger.

Not to be outdone, Erik Gutshall county leaders went over the budget with a “fine tooth comb” and the result is a budget without “an ounce of fat.”

What he should have said:

A majority of the “savings” we found in the budget were achieved by essentially eliminating vacant staff positions.

Even if you don’t write off the savings as a budget gimmick, the Board spent 99.4% of what it wanted to spend on the county government side of the budget. And, there’s a good bet there is more than one ounce of fat left in it.

While we have come to expect this from a group of people who call spending 6.3% more than last year a “difficult” budget process, Christian Dorsey said something even more disturbing. WMAL aired a clip of Dorsey talking about how Arlingtonians can pay for the 5% tax increase. Dorsey’s reply was to suggest that Arlingtonians “scrub their family budgets.”

What Dorsey is essentially saying:

We didn’t do the hard work. You guys should just suck it up and find a way to pay for it.

Then I was reminded of something Dorsey said earlier this year. In January, he was answering questions about raising the pay of Board Members. Dorsey seemed to suggest that Board Members could scale back their workloads and focus more on big picture responsibilities.

He went on to reflect on some Board Members who dig into the nitty gritty of how the county is run, saying “An individual board member exceeding his responsibility is not helpful.” In other words, when someone else works really hard, it makes the rest of us look bad.

So, the idea that the Board did not really roll up their sleeves and work hard to build a better budget on behalf of taxpayers should not be surprising.

And the failure to rein in spending did not just result in a tax increase on homeowners. The Board also raised taxes on commercial real estate even more. They did this in the face of a commercial vacancy rate that remains high, putting even more upward pressure on the cost of doing business in the county.

All five Board Members have talked about addressing the vacancy rate. The only response thus far is to spend more of our tax dollars to subsidize big employers. $23 million for Amazon and $11.5 million for the DEA are the most recent examples.

What else do they plan to do other than hand out subsidies? Where is the plan?

The bottom line is it is tough to find a single word or phrase that describes this year’s budget process. “Failure” or “head-scratching” come to mind.

No, it’s just “typical.” Unless we change our leaders, we can expect more of the same.

Mark Kelly is a 19-year Arlington resident, former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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