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The Right Note: Getting Ready to Lock in Higher Taxes

The Right Note is a biweekly opinion column. The views expressed are solely the author’s.

The County Board returned to in-person meetings this month. While this return to normalcy receives a “thumbs up,” the Board immediately announced plans to lock in higher taxes.

The Board did so by voting unanimously to advertise collective bargaining for county employees and prevailing wage on construction projects, both of which are likely to be approved in July.

The Democrats have held a majority on the Arlington County Board for more than three decades. The idea that they could not have paid county staff and first responders more over the years without collective bargaining is laughable.The politicians were only restrained by their perceived tolerance of the county’s residents to pay higher taxes. And of course, this tolerance is very high compared to most places across America.

When, sadly not if, the Board adopts collective bargaining, these five politicians and their successors will be able to tell county residents there is nothing they can do about the rising personnel costs because of collective bargaining.

“We have no choice,” they will say. “Your taxes will have to go up to cover it.”

This should come as no surprise. This is the same Board that goes through the fake exercise of decrying a “budget shortfall” each and every year which “necessitates” a higher tax burden to bridge the “gap.” Yet, each and every year they find tens of millions in surplus to dole out in the closeout process.

Constraining our county budget with an unfavorable labor contract is not only a lazy way to address compensation, it can cause other long term issues. One only has to look at the financial troubles of Metro to understand just how quickly maintenance and other needs can get pushed aside as personnel costs grow out of control under a labor agreement.

But maybe the current five Board members believe this will simply be someone else’s problem 10 or 20 years down the road? Or maybe they think Arlingtonians will always be willing to write a blank check to cover it?

As for construction projects, the staff report says the adoption of “prevailing wage” will add approximately 15% to the cost of each contract. That could be upwards of $9 million each year in additional costs for the same amount of construction. Over the course of a 10 year capital improvement plan, the increased costs will approach $100 million. By way of comparison, this is equivalent to a new high school building or two aquatics centers.

But taxpayers will not get new buildings or other infrastructure in return.

The County Board’s first in-person meeting in more than a year earns a big “thumbs down” for locking in more spending and higher taxes for decades to come.

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

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