The Right Note is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.
Last month I received the following advice from a fellow Republican, “our candidates should stop talking about taxes because it is not a winning issue in Arlington.”
Understandably frustrated, this well-meaning advisor is not totally off base. Many Republicans in Arlington accept high property tax burden as one of the costs of living here and want to talk more about how it is spent. Others certainly view the issue as something that turns away the crossover Independents and Democrats needed to build a winning coalition.
Keeping this in mind, it would be easy to stop pushing back on the County Board every six months or so when the spring budget development and the fall closeout spending spree roll around. However, while in a near permanent minority political status, there is something to be said for acting as the loyal opposition. Republicans believe in letting the people keep as much of their hard-earned money as possible as well as in holding elected officials accountable for how they spend what we give them.
Each year, the County Board is required by law to hold two public hearings. One is to gather input on their spending plan and the other the tax rate. Historically in Arlington, the how should we spend the money hearing is overwhelmed with speakers. Usually many people are there to talk about proposed budget cuts that the Board likely has no intention of ever making. These are the “closing the Washington Monument” cuts that are trotted out as the justification to keep the property taxes as high as possible. Rarely does anyone speak against a spending program. This year’s spending hearing is tonight if you wish to shake things up and speak up for fiscal restraint.
Decidedly less popular is the tax rate hearing which will occur on Thursday. Often there are not enough speakers to fill the statutorily mandated hour. This may be because people are satisfied with paying $7500 or more for the services the county provides, or because people who are not satisfied believe any complaints would fall on deaf ears. As in previous years, take this as encouragement to log on virtually and let your voice be heard. It has never been easier.
Knowing what their constituency thinks about how much money they are taking from us and how they are spending it is a good thing for the County Board, regardless of whether they choose to internalize it or ignore it. This loyal opposition offers a consistent reminder to Arlingtonians that we are the party asking for fiscal responsibility from our elected leaders.
Mark Kelly is a long-time Arlington resident, former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.