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The Right Note: Be Better

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.

Another election day is in the books. Gone, for at least the next nine months, are the over-the-top campaign ads, flyers and emails that invade our lives in the run-up to election day every year in Virginia.

Politics is, and has always been, a contact sport. The 1800 presidential election for example between Adams and Jefferson quickly devolved into name calling. And the negative tactics will almost certainly continue until they no longer work. With 24-hour cable news preaching to their own choirs and with the unlimited reach of social media to the devices in our pockets, there may be no end in sight.

We have heard a lot about the tone of our politics generally as well as the verbal “finger pointing” about who it is to blame. Some consider President Trump’s Twitter account or his campaign rally speeches to be too over the top or too anti-media. Some may blame the talk radio hosts, or talking heads on cable news, for whipping people into a frenzy. Others condemn the comments by former Attorney General Eric Holder about “kicking” Republicans or Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Ca.) calling for confrontations of Republicans in public places. Or the angry protests lead by a group on the left known as antifa that have too often turned violent.

In the run-up to the 2017 elections here in Virginia, Sen. Barbara Favola (D-31st District) even called Republicans “evil” to the thunderous approval of her audience of fellow Arlingtonians. She may regret saying that in the heat of a campaign season, but hopefully she understands that she was not improving the tone in politics today. And her fellow Arlingtonians who are Republicans are left to wonder if those really are her true feelings.

None of us are perfect. But at the end of the day, we are all responsible for our own words and actions. Personal responsibility for what we say, how we treat others, how we contribute to our communities, how we work and take care of our own families, is the cornerstone of America. In a successful civil society, self-government is the most basic form of government and ultimately the most important.

There is an old cliche: don’t be bitter, be better. We must all ask ourselves if we are doing enough in our own sphere of influence to improve the level of civil discourse. We have a few months until the next election starts in Virginia to try and be better.

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The Right Note: Better, But Still More Work to Do

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.

On the County Board agenda this past week was the County Manager’s recommendations on closeout spending for this year. The manager recommended that $16.5 million be set aside to offset next year’s budget.

This is certainly better than spending all of it now and causing tax rates to go even higher next year. However, the proposal still falls short of where we need to be.

The county manager is already previewing that he will ask County Board members for a tax rate increase in 2019. It will be necessary, he says, to address the $78 million “shortfall” for next year.

The schools are slated to receive $10 million to spend now in the closeout process. This money should be set aside to address a shortfall next year they project could be as much as $43 million.

The manager opted to recommend an increase in the county reserves from 5 percent to 5.5 percent. There is no demonstrable need to do so. Once again, millions more in revenue came in during the last fiscal year than was projected.

This was totally predictable, as it happens year after year. Just as the county does not spend its entire budget, year after year. In other words, next year’s budget “crunch” will also not be as dire as the county manager is predicting — just like it wasn’t this year. So, the $6.4 million added to the reserves should instead be set aside for next year.

Finally, the county manager recommended he receive a $2 million contingency fund to spend as he sees fit. Included as examples of items the manager could spend this money on is an airport noise study and a parking permit study.

It goes without saying that these are not emergencies, particularly if the budget is really “crunched.” There is no reason the County Board cannot approve these expenditures in a supplemental fashion. The County Board should reject this slush fund and set it aside for next year.

With all of this in mind, the County Board should modify the manager’s proposal. In total, $34.9 million from this year’s closeout funding should be used to pay for next year’s budget. That would cut the “gap” nearly in half without raising the tax rate one penny or making any cuts.

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The Right Note: Vihstadt on Nov. 6

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.

An article this week at the Sun Gazette suggested the County Board race was a referendum on the incumbent. If that were the case, many Arlington politicos believe John Vihstadt would win in a landslide.

The fact is Vihstadt’s reelection is not a lock Nov. 6. The 2018 political environment is much more favorable to Democrats than it was in 2014 when Vihstadt comfortably won a full term. Many Democrats who are expected to vote in 2018, but did not in 2014, may not be as tuned in to local issues as they are to what is going on across the river in Washington.

But every voter should know that John Vihstadt has been exactly the County Board Member he promised Arlingtonians he would be when he ran — an independent voice who does his homework on the issues and is a strong advocate for fiscal sanity.

Vihstadt has worked hard to stay on top of the issues that concern our community, not just during this election year, but all four years. All you have to do is scroll through his Facebook page to see how many events he attends throughout our county. This should not be a surprise. Vihstadt voluntarily contributed to his community long before he decided to run for the County Board, with a particular emphasis on supporting our schools.

Matthew Di Ferranti is running an interesting race. It is hard to to decipher what his campaign theme is other than, “I’m a Democrat, so elect me.” When he does talk about issues, he is often criticizing policies put in place by the Democrat majority which has run Arlington County for three decades. Yet, to elect him would guarantee more of the same by eliminating the lone independent voice.

I twice had the privilege to run for County Board as a Republican. Both times I found countless independents and Democrats around Arlington who believed as I did that one-party rule on the Board was not healthy for our community. Based on conversations I continue to have with people of all political stripes, that view is largely unchanged.

While John Vihstadt has been the driving force for positive changes, there simply are not yet three votes on the Board to do even more. Our regular budgeting and closeout spending processes could be reformed to be more transparent and to keep excessive spending in check. Big projects should be voted on separately as bond questions. To attract and retain more businesses, we must go beyond incentives for big companies and make this the best place for everyone to do business: eliminate the BPOL tax, reform and streamline permitting and revisit the zoning process in general.

That means we need more County Board Members like John Vihstadt, so the first step toward more positive change is to re-elect him on Nov. 6.

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The Right Note: Metro Memo States the Obvious

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.

Last week, it came to light a memo had been produced in May by someone at Metro outlining the system’s ridership woes and some possible solutions. According to the Washington Post, this memo never made it all the way up to the general manager or the WMATA Board.

From the memo: “The fundamental factors — fares, location, speed, frequency, and reliability — matter most and Metro’s recent actions have put downward pressure on ridership.” And it found the group driving the ridership decline the fastest are those who had used the system the most.

Worsening service at higher prices is driving riders away, especially in a world filled with ride sharing, bike shares and now scooters. Metro is losing long time riders in an increasingly competitive marketplace.

Leaders were surprised that the memo existed, but not necessarily surprised by the findings. WMATA Board Chairman Jack Evans used it as another opportunity to call for more taxpayer funding for the system in order to add back service. The biggest union used it as an opportunity to blame the general manager. All in all, it was a series of predictable responses.

Recently, Christian Dorsey was given a voting seat on the WMATA Board. Now we know it is the intention of WMATA to rotate voting and non-voting board members. At the end of the day, though, it is hard to paint a scenario where the person voting matters. Representatives from the District, Maryland and Virginia and the federal government all seem to have differing approaches and political realities to take into account.

The Board as a whole seems content with the overall strategy of simply asking for more money. No one appears to be committed to a major structural overhaul. So, the memo serves as a reminder that it will be tough to get Metro back on track with the same people making decisions.

A Final Note on Redistricting? 

Over the past few days it came to light that Gov. Ralph Northam backed out of a political fundraiser for a fellow Democrat. Why? The delegate had the audacity to say Democrats in the General Assembly should have worked with Republicans to redraw the district lines.

With Gov. Northam’s veto threat and Democrats in the General Assembly acquiescing to it, the new House of Delegates map will be drawn by the courts. The Democrats are betting on judges to produce a better political map for them than they could get through a compromise with Republicans. So, they decided not to do the jobs they were elected to do.

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The Right Note: School Construction Costs and Political Gamesmanship

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.

Arlington Public Schools finally released the long-awaited audit of school construction costs. The bottom line from the auditor is that Arlington’s past construction costs are generally in line with other jurisdictions in the area.

However, according to the document, the new Wilson school would cost over $555 per square foot and $130,000 per seat. The per seat number is more than double the per seat cost for recent school buildings in the county. In other words, Arlington should be able to add up to twice as many seats for the money.

In what can only be explained as a purely partisan political move, the Arlington Education Association PAC endorsed Democrat Matthew de Ferranti this week over John Vihstadt. Nothing in the AEA’s endorsement said anything specific about what he de Ferranti would do to support or improve the education of our kids. Here is the endorsement in its entirety:

Matt impressed the interview committee with his deep commitment to social equity and his understanding of the issues facing both employees and students of medium and lower income in their struggle to live and work in Arlington County. Matt demonstrated that he is a leader open to hearing the ideas and concerns of our community.  His voice on the County Board would help make our local government a more effective advocate for all of Arlington’s residents.

Vihstadt was president of the Yorktown PTA and co-chaired a school bond campaign in the county. And by all accounts, has been supportive of education funding while serving on the County Board.

Speaking of purely partisan political moves, Governor Northam this week threatened to veto the latest redistricting plan offered by Republicans in the House of Delegates. When the original plan passed, it had support from both Democrats and Republicans in Richmond. And Democrats in the General Assembly had expressed a desire to help draw the lines again.

Worse than not supporting the current plan, the Governor does not support the House of Delegates moving a plan at all. Instead, he is calling for the courts to redraw the lines.

Northam’s unwillingness to work with Republicans to find a solution without involving the courts demonstrates more than a striking lack of leadership. It is a blatant attempt to get what he believes will be a better political outcome for his party. Voters should remember this next time Democrats talk about the need for bipartisan solutions during a campaign.

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The Right Note: Will Democrats Work With Republicans Again in Richmond?

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.

A recent lawsuit on the House of Delegates boundaries resulted in a court order to the General Assembly to redraw the lines by the end of October. A new standard of constitutional review in regards to the consideration of race in determining legislative districts is now being insisted on by the courts.

This week Republicans released a second plan that seeks to meet the requirements of the court. According to the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Democrats say they still want to find a legislative solution. This is encouraging as Governor Northam had previously expressed the view that the courts should just redraw the lines. The same Times-Dispatch article seems to indicate some in Democrat circles were still debating if they should find a compromise or wait to see if they will get a better political outcome from the court.

Nationwide, there is an effort to take the ability to draw legislative district lines out of the hands of the legislative and executive branch and put it in the hands of unelected independent commissions. This is a valid public policy debate that can be voted on by your elected representatives.

More disturbing is the idea that political parties who did not control the redistricting process are running to the courts to overturn the results. And it is not just about the consideration of race. In Pennsylvania, the state supreme court struck down a Republican-drawn Congressional district map simply for being too partisan. A federal court did the same thing in North Carolina.

Turning our attention back to the Virginia House of Delegates map. It would be a complete abrogation of the duty of our elected representatives to simply toss this decision to the courts. The judges are simply not directly accountable to the people for the results.

The original plan was agreed to in a truly bipartisan fashion, with an overwhelming majority of Democrats supporting it. The General Assembly should produce a plan again. When they do, Governor Northam should sign it.

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The Right Note: Delaying the Hospital Expansion?

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 Arlington Planning Commission is recommending that the County Board delay consideration of the Virginia Hospital Center’s planned expansion, due largely to pushback from neighbors.

Arlington’s long history of community involvement is a good one. Taking neighborhood concerns into consideration, particularly when it comes to mitigating traffic volume around the hospital, is not without merit. The Planning Commission, however, wants to send the hospital back to the drawing board largely for aesthetics, asking that they move some of the taller buildings to a different location in the plans to create less of a “wall” between the hospital and the neighboring single family homes.

While the Metro corridor has a natural step down effect from large buildings into residential neighborhoods, the hospital has long been established in the middle of single family homes. And these neighbors moved into the area with the full knowledge that Arlington’s only hospital was there.

Our population continues to grow as the County Board adds more density to our major corridors. In addition to impacts on schools, it means our healthcare needs will grow as well. Allowing the hospital to expand will add 101 beds to that capacity right here in our community and meet the needs for the next decade or so.

The hospital already adds upwards of $50 million a year in community benefit, according to the Chamber of Commerce. The proposed expansion will add not only short-term construction jobs but permanent jobs for doctors, nurses, clinical professionals and many other support staff here in Arlington.

As the County Board knows from its own projects, construction delays add to construction costs.  This is an important factor in favor of quick approval of this project, particularly in the face of healthcare costs that are already growing faster than inflation.

Virginia Hospital Center is an asset to Arlington. It is needed to meet our healthcare needs and it provides good jobs. That is why there is little doubt that the Board intends to ultimately approve this project, and almost just as certainly additional expansion will be needed in the future. With all of this in mind, they should move forward as quickly as they can rather than causing an extensive delay.

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The Right Note: Election Season Kickoff

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.

Leaving the annual Civic Federation candidate forum Tuesday evening, I was already writing this column in my head. It was going to be heavy with criticism about the format.

Delegates were essentially allowed to race to the microphone and form a line to ask questions. With two-minute answers for each candidate, only four questions were asked of each of the three panels.

As a result, County Board candidates were asked two questions about elections: one on access to in-person absentee voting and one on election security. This might have been more appropriate for the Electoral Board or the Registrar, but on Tuesday it made up 50 percent of the Q & A for the position that determines how our local tax dollars are raised and spent.

For School Board, one question was asked about the tree canopy and another about the cost of facility rentals. No question was asked about renaming Washington-Lee High School, though Audrey Clement brought up the issue. Little time was spent on classroom performance or per-pupil spending. (And no one took me up on my suggestion of asking whether or not elementary school students should be assigned homework.)

This is nothing new. Having been through two Civic Federation forums as a candidate myself, I came to expect the non-traditional questions from delegates. Once I was asked simply why I liked living in Arlington.

As I thought about the forum more, my stance on the format began to change. Sure, we may have gotten to more of the “big issues” had questions been submitted in advance so the moderator could have asked the two most popular ones before turning it over to the delegates. Or, each answer could have been shortened to 60 or 90 seconds to allow for more questions from the delegates.

At the same time, if you want to know where the candidates stand on the big issues, you can read their websites or go to one of the many civic association forums on the calendar between now and Election Day. And you should go listen to the candidates in person, after all, local government is the most important government to our everyday lives.

But there is no doubt, they have those talking points down. What makes the Civic Federation forum unique is you never know what will be asked. The way a candidate answers those non-standard questions gives us a little insight into how a candidate thinks when pushed off their regular talking points. And it reminds the candidates that voters have many different issues that rise to the top of their lists when it comes to what’s most important to them.

So the Civic Federation should keep letting delegates ask the questions. It works for you.

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The Right Note: Corey Stewart and Katie Cristol Agree

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.

Straight from the “headlines you never thought you would read” category, at a recent forum for Northern Virginia elected leaders, Stewart and Cristol agreed that more money was needed for roads. But, they did not exactly see eye-to-eye on what to do about it.

Cristol supported another round of tax increases to pay for it, backing a plan that failed to get through the General Assembly. It would increase the tax on the sale of a home, about $250 in taxes for a $500,000 house and increase taxes on hotel rooms.

Stewart reminded everyone that new tax dollars were already earmarked for roads, but were diverted to transit as part of the recent Metro funding deal. He would not commit to supporting another new tax increase to pay for it this time around.

There is another option.

As a result of the new federal tax law, Virginia is projected to run a revenue surplus of $500 million a year until 2024. There is a push underway to return at least some of this money to the taxpayers. Gov. Ralph Northam wants to focus on a refundable tax credit. Republicans want to focus on conforming the Virginia code to the structure of the new federal tax law, ensuring middle class taxpayers in Virginia fully benefit from the new tax code.

The General Assembly could also set aside a portion of surplus funds available after any tax reform to go toward road projects. It is a little surprising Cristol is not actively championing this idea since we know the Arlington County Board generally uses most, if not all, of our surplus tax revenue to pay for new spending projects. Then again, the idea of new sources of tax revenue may have been too difficult for Cristol to pass up.

In other news, oddsmakers now favor Washington, D.C. or Northern Virginia as the top two likely destinations for Amazon HQ2. If it lands in Arlington, expect real estate values to make a significant jump and provide a substantial tax revenue boost to the county. But how much will Arlington send back out the door as part of the incentive package necessary to land the online giant? And would there be enough left over for us to see a cut in our tax rate?

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The Right Note: Metro’s Biggest Problem With Its Union Contract

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.

After two years of working without a contract, a recent arbitration decision set the terms of employment for nearly two-thirds of all Metro employees through 2020. Union members get a small raise retroactive to 2017. In exchange, they will have to pay a higher percentage of their health care costs moving forward. On net, that means labor costs will go up over $60 million through 2020 and WMATA will look to Arlington, among other jurisdictions, to fill in that gap.

The issue that will have the biggest impact on the long term health of the transit agency is pensions. The second largest union has agreed to move to a defined contribution plan for new hires. The largest union refuses to do so.

The arbitration panel punted on the issue this time around. They also refused to cap the use of overtime in the pension calculations. It was a financially irresponsible decision in the face of a $3 billion unfunded pension liability.

Under the terms of the contractual arrangement, both sides are bound to go to arbitration when talks break down. WMATA, which already faces difficulties firing employees, has no real leverage to push for these pension changes as long as the union continues to balk.

Riders and taxpayers in subsidizing jurisdictions will end up shouldering the burden in the near term. Over the long run, the agency cannot sustain the union’s retirement demands. This failure by the arbitrators to address the pension issue now is another reminder that it is probably time to consider a major structural overhaul.

In anticipation of recent repairs, Metro warned riders on affected lines to avoid the system unless they had no other options. More and more, riders are leaving and not coming back. Now that Arlington has a voting member of the Metro Board, we should hear regularly from Christian Dorsey on what reforms he will push for in order to stop kicking the can down the road.

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The Right Note: Thinking About the School Board

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.

This week’s announcement by Arlington Public Schools about their compliance with the new Virginia law on recess reminded me that voters do have a choice in the School Board race in November. Audrey Clement and Barbara Kanninen will debate in September, so here are eight things Civic Federation members should consider asking about.

College is becoming prohibitively expensive for many. The economy still needs people in skilled trades which can provide good careers. What more should Arlington be doing to prepare students who do not want to go on to a traditional four-year college?

Our school enrollment is increasing and new buildings are being built, under what circumstances would you support increasing the student to teacher ratio to meet enrollment within budget constraints?

If county revenues suddenly became flat, where would you look first for budget savings? Have you considered ways that administrative staff and expenses could be scaled back to ensure cuts were not made in the classroom?

This year as part of the budget process, Superintendent Patrick Murphy reported per pupil spending would be $19,235 for the 2019 school year for the anticipated enrollment of 28,027 students. But when you divide $636.7 million by 28,027 students, you arrive at $22,717 per projected student. Why does Arlington report per-pupil spending this way and shouldn’t we be honest with county residents about the total actual cost rather than relying on a manufactured formula that pegs the number nearly $3,500 lower?

Assuming the School Board had not decided to engage in a name change process for Washington-Lee, what could staff have spent their time on to improve educational outcomes and what could the money that will be needed to change the name have been spent on? As the name change process moves forward, do you support naming it after a person or do you think we should stop naming schools after people altogether?

Some in the county have suggested that increasing diversity should be a higher priority when it comes to school boundary changes. What do you think the top three considerations should be?

Many studies show that homework at younger ages has no academic benefit to students, so would you support a proposal to ban homework county-wide for all elementary school students? What about through the seventh grade?

Currently the county builds in snow days and multiple teacher in-service and conference days into the calendar. Would you support ending the school year for all students not later than June 10 unless too many snow days were accumulated?

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The Right Note: Eight Things To Ask a Board Member This Month

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.

It’s August, and in keeping with tradition, there is no County Board meeting for your elected representatives to prepare for this month. So here are eight things to ask your Board Member when you see them out and about:

1) Would you vote to turn yourself into a full-time lawmaking body, and if so, what will taxpayers see in return? In the past, Libby Garvey has proposed a massive raise for County Board Members to bring the salaries in line with median income in Arlington, but other Board Members have passed on the idea so far.

2) Why didn’t you have a firmer grasp on ongoing operating costs for the new aquatics center before breaking ground on the project? And the follow up question is, would you vote to increase the subsidy or increase fees to cover any shortfalls?

3) Would you support removing ongoing maintenance from future bond requests? With our annual debt service ratio dangerously close to the 10 percent cap bond rating agencies look at, shouldn’t we leave room for future needs without having to resort to a big tax increase and pay for maintenance as we go? And would you commit to supporting a separate up or down vote on borrowing for any project over $25 million? If not, what about $50 million?

4) Where do you draw the line on incentives for new businesses looking to locate in Arlington? Since Board Members say the incentives they offered Amazon for their new headquarters are confidential, it would be nice to know if they have a line they will not cross.

5) What changes can you support to ensure all existing businesses in Arlington have an incentive to stay? Zoning, permitting and the gross receipts tax known as BPOL are all open for reform.

6) Speaking of zoning, would you support steps to make the construction of new housing more affordable in Arlington? Affordable housing, as was noted by a recent Sun Gazette piece, has been an issue for half a century in our county. The permitting and zoning process would be a good place to start.

7) Would you vote to double the capacity of the County Auditor’s office in 2019? At the rate we are going, the auditor may only be able to evaluate the total budget about once every 25 years which is hardly an effective avenue for reform.

8) If you could snap your fingers tomorrow and make three specific changes to our laws or budget line items, what would they be and why would they make the most impact on the community? You might receive platitudes or nebulous initiatives if you ask this question, but hopefully they would be able to advocate for concrete changes.

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The Right Note: Aquatics Center Subsidies & Fees Still An Open Question

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.

We were reminded this week that Arlington County still has no concrete estimates when it comes to operating costs or potential user fees for the new aquatics center. The study to determine those costs only began in earnest only after the Board voted to move forward with the project. It was not completed before they voted to move forward with construction, and will not be completed until sometime in 2019.

There are two things to watch for here. In the near term, we will find out whether the results of the study produce costs in line with the estimates provided by county staff last fall. In the long term, we will see whether the actual costs outpace the new estimates.

The million-dollar bus stop woke up the community to the escalating costs of the streetcar. The failure of the county to meet expectations on the taxpayer subsidy for the Artisphere ultimately doomed that project. Unlike the Artisphere, Arlington will not be able to divest itself from the new pool complex. If costs outpace estimates, either taxpayers will be on the hook or user fees will increase dramatically. Neither would be a popular outcome.

John Vihstadt raised the operating cost issue last November and voted against moving forward then. One plausible explanation for the other four Board members who supported the project is a total lack of confidence that a dollar figure produced from further study would not far exceed the $1.1 million annual subsidy found in the staff estimates. They certainly did not want any public pressure to account for higher ongoing costs before committing $60 million to the project.

The bottom line is that this work should have been completed before the initial vote last November so the Board could have taken this information into account. Surely it should have been done by this summer when the Board took the final vote to break ground on the project.

This is not the way the county should do business when it comes to making long-term budget commitments.

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The Right Note: Childcare Plan Still Needs More Detail

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 County Board this week agreed to move forward with their Child Care Initiative action plan.

Of course, it did not take an action plan to tell any of us with kids that it is expensive to take care of them in Arlington. Whether it’s full-time child care, part-time, pre-school or even babysitting the costs add up on top of already expensive mortgages or rent payments. And anecdotally, you probably know parents who have still been scrambling to find care for an infant just days before going back to work.

But what does that mean the county government should do about it?

First, there is the question of accessibility. According to the county’s action plan, more than 13,000 kids are under the age of 5 in Arlington while just less than 7,000 slots are available in child care facilities. However, the county document did not answer all of the relevant statistical questions about these children.

How many families have a stay-at-home parent or a grandparent living with them? How many families use a nanny or au pair? How many families prefer to make use of a child care facility closer to their place of employment, like in D.C. or Fairfax County? In other words, are we really talking about 6,000 plus children who need a child care option, or 3,000 or 1,000 or 100?

Regardless of the number, the county is right to look at whether they can modify zoning and fees to make it easier for more facilities to open. For example, do we really need parking for all of the people who work there, or could the facility instead offer a Metro or rideshare benefit? Can we lower certain application fees? Lowering governmentally imposed barriers to entry, those that do not directly impact the well-being of the child, is a good thing. And the Board is considering making changes like these by the end of the year.

Another big question raised in the plan is whether or not county taxpayers should directly subsidize care to supplement any state programs and federal tax credits.

Before moving forward with a subsidy program, the Board must first provide in great detail: the income levels they propose to subsidize, a well-documented projection of the number of families who would take advantage of such a program, the total cost to fund the subsidies and administer the program and how they would propose paying for it.

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The Right Note: Dorsey Test Driving 2019 Message?

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.

Over the past week, ARLnow featured Arlington County Board Vice Chairman Christian Dorsey talking about two issues — affordable housing and unfair business practices.

In his Progressive Voice column on business practices, Dorsey laid out an idea to consolidate efforts that take place across agencies and law enforcement and create a consumer protection bureau here in Arlington. Something he says can be done without “substantial increases in funding” by the taxpayers.

The idea is certainly worthy of consideration, particularly if it put all resources available to Arlingtonians in a one-stop shop and did so with little increased costs. At the same time, Dorsey admitted there is no data available to suggest there is a widespread problem or failure of the current system beyond anecdote. It seems like we may want to know the scope of the problem before making a decision on whether it is necessary to dedicate staff time and any increased funding toward creating the new entity.

Dorsey’s speech on housing policy did a number of things. First, it provided a brief overview of discriminatory practices in our country’s past. Dorsey noted that for the most part, these are a relic of the past. He did suggest that using words like “protecting neighborhoods” should not be code for resisting diversity in the name of resisting density.

He went on to argue that government can overcome market forces when it comes to housing. While it is certainly true that you can make public policy strong enough, or destructive enough depending on your perspective, to disrupt market forces, this is always a dangerous road to go down.

Moreover, not a single policy decision made by Arlington County thus far is pointed to as stemming the tide when it comes to rising housing prices. If Amazon came to town there may be no public policy Arlington could pass that could stop a massive price spike. And of course, one can argue that the arduous zoning and permitting processes only serve to make housing more expensive.

Speaking of zoning, Dorsey also intimated that he may favor restrictions on building larger homes on lots because the practice raises the price of the housing stock. Arlington’s zoning ordinance is already a complicated and expensive maze to navigate through, but Dorsey is suggesting he may pursue further restrictions on your property rights in the future.

It sounds a lot like he is previewing a turn as chairman next year or his campaign themes as he presumably runs for re-election in 2019. No data to back a call for additional spending and more property restrictions may not be the best place to start.

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