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The Right Note: Best Conspiracy Theory of the Week?

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.

Why were Arlington schools closed on Tuesday when every surrounding jurisdiction operated on a two hour delay?

According to the Sun Gazette, it could have something to do with Arlington’s desire to get a waiver from the so-called “Kings Dominion rule” which stops many school districts from returning to school until after Labor Day. Fairfax County was granted the waiver primarily on the basis of too many snow days a couple years back, so maybe it would work for Arlington?

It has been tough sledding for Arlington officials when it comes to getting help from the General Assembly. However, Arlington officials could be betting on Democrats taking control of both the House and Senate in the 2019 elections, which presumably would clear the way for more favorable treatment.

Last fall, Katie Cristol openly backed the opponent of the last remaining General Assembly Republican inside the beltway — Tim Hugo. This was primarily based on the treatment the county received in the golf course property tax battle. Having made this early political play, it would be a good bet that nothing Arlington wants is moving through the House of Delegates if Republicans hold on to the majority.

Back to the school calendar. Arlington could already get out of school earlier in June if that was truly a priority. There are plenty of cushion days built into the calendar now to make it happen.

If we did have a particularly snowy winter, days could simply be added back in June if necessary to meet state requirements. If this is about preparing for SOL testing or other academic measures, it would be good to see real data on whether a school district that made the switch saw any statistically significant improvement.

Speaking of APS, the School Board this week made it official: Washington-Lee will soon be known as Washington-Liberty high school. Long ago it seemed a done deal that the compromise position was to keep the “W-L” moniker rather than further alienating already disgruntled alumni.

The bottom line for many parents is the amount of time spent on name changes, building designs and boundary line disputes should never take away from the need to ensure what happens inside the classroom is best preparing our kids for the future.

How our students will be prepared to find a job and thrive in the next generation economy. And, how our students will be prepared to contribute to our society as good, well-rounded, critically thinking citizens.

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The Right Note: Kicking Off, Part 2

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.

County Board Members Garvey, Gutshall and de Ferranti also chimed in with their current priorities at the annual organizational meeting. Each gave a nod to the budget process which will undoubtedly result in a hefty tax rate increase. The ongoing questions with Amazon’s arrival, soaring housing costs, transportation and schools were on also their lists in one way or another.

Newcomer Matthew de Ferranti recapped his campaign promises in his speech. Oddly, he put building a new high school at the top of his list for the 2020 budget process. Since he is not on the School Board, one can only assume that item is what he will hang his hat on in order to vote for a tax rate increase.

Libby Garvey took time to offer a look back at Arlington’s history over the past four decades in order to set the stage for the question of where we want Arlington to be over the next four decades? And she issued a challenge to have that debate in a civil manner.

Fresh off his first year of service, Erik Gutshall went through a traditional speech that included political platitudes and priority items. Gutshall rightly called for modernizing the zoning code. Though we should all hope that the Board members calling for this think “modernize” means make it easier and less expensive to build not more expensive and more complicated.

Gutshall’s final priority was unique to his colleagues, and a bit concerning. Without discussing the specifics of what it would mean to us, Gutshall suggested Arlington join the “Green New Deal.” At least one preliminary study estimates the plan would cost an amount which is twice the current federal budget over the next 10 years. While not all of those cost would be passed on to taxpayers directly, the costs to transition to 100 percent renewable energy in manufacturing would certainly be passed on to us in terms of increased prices.

Members of the all-Democrat General Assembly delegation also discussed their priorities for the year as they head back into session. They suggested Republicans’ electoral prospects would be enhanced by adopting Democrats’ priorities. I am sure Republicans in Richmond will be just as receptive to the advice as the County Board will be to my advice not to raise the tax rate this year.

At or near the top of their list is one of the issues that historically does not motivate voters to go to the polls — redistricting reform. While most voters favor “doing something” on the issue, the push by Democrats to move the process even further away from any accountability to the voters remains a bad idea.

The real fight as recognized by our delegation will be over the tax revenue windfall caused by changes in the federal tax reform law. In posturing that will surprise no one: Republicans will push to return most of it to taxpayers. Democrats will push to spend most of it.

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The Right Note: Kicking Off the Year, Part 1

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 Jan. 2, the County Board held its organizational meeting for 2019 with speeches from each County Board member outlining their priorities for the year. Today, I will focus on the remarks from our current Chairman Christian Dorsey as well as our outgoing Chair Katey Cristol.

Christian Dorsey was elected to take the center seat as chairman for 2019. Early in his remarks, Dorsey did what was expected, set the stage for why a tax rate increase would be necessary, primarily blaming a “depressed” tax base, primarily because of a low commercial vacancy rate.

To translate for people who do not follow county budgets, our “depressed” tax base continues to produce tens of millions of dollars in additional revenue each and every year.

Nevertheless, desired county spending continues to outpace our growing revenue. The county, Dorsey said, would practice austerity to make up for this gap. Austerity is a word that makes one think the county will take extreme steps to reduce spending, but that is unlikely. What is extremely likely is that the county will not reduce spending enough to avoid a tax rate increase.

Dorsey did move on to the theme for his year as chairman. The word for the year was clearly “equity.” Dorsey argued we needed to put our words and commitment to equity into practice for all Arlingtonians. Unfortunately, Dorsey did not lay out exactly what success would look like a year from now on this front.

Cristol, who should get some sort of credit for working the word “crystalized” into her speech, offered two constructive suggestions to compliment what Chairman Dorsey had to say.

First, she suggested reforming our zoning code to increase the types of housing that could be available to meet our long term needs for people of all income levels. Those reforms should also include making it easier and cheaper to make your way through the permitting and construction process.

Cristol also suggested that the county use data to measure the progress it makes in all of its goals, particularly when it comes to equity.

A data-driven approach is 100 percent in line with the transparency and accountability that is promised by our County Board. It also fits right in with the time of year we are in where we are thinking about our resolutions and goals for the new year. If you have gone through the planning process with your business, you know this: if it’s not measurable, it’s not a real goal.

I look forward to how Cristol works with county staff to turn this idea into reality.

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The Right Note: Getting Ready for the Speeches

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.

Next week, the County Board will meet for its annual organizational meeting, and it will do so with a new member for the first time since 2016. While the annual tradition of meeting on New Year’s Day seems to be relegated to the past, the tradition of speeches filled with a laundry list of “priorities” is here to stay.

Here are 10 questions the Board should try to answer as they craft their messages to Arlingtonians:

What will the first year of Amazon’s arrival look like? Now that the decision has been made and the incentive package has been promised, there are still a lot of practical questions to be answered. Housing, transportation and other infrastructure issues are on a lot of our minds.

How do you intend to improve the zoning and permitting process to help keep housing construction costs in check?

What is the future of Metro? While this is certainly not a question left up to us, Christian Dorsey could be a leader in calling for reforms.

How much do you plan to raise the tax rate? There is little question the Board plans to raise rates for 2019 on top of rising assessments, in order to ramp up spending significantly. It is unlikely anyone will come right out and say just how much, but they will instead spend most of their time apologizing for why they “have” to do it.

Will you give the county auditor more resources to do his job? Assuming the Board really does seek the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars.

How many more things will Arlington try to rename? And, has anyone determined the amount of staff time spent on such efforts?

Would you vote to institute “Instant Runoff Voting” in County Board elections if the General Assembly said you could?

Does Arlington have a long-term plan if our share of Medicaid expansion costs continue to rise? No one knows yet the full impact of this decision on our local budget, but the County Board is already asking for relief in the package it sent to the General Assembly.

Will the Board revisit its stance against funding the Potomac River gondola? A simple one-word answer will suffice if you do not want to clutter up your speech, preferably starting with the letter ‘n.’

Finally, with the return of one-party control of the County Board, what assurances can you give Arlingtonians that you will not slip into the patterns of the past?

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The Right Note: 2018 Is Winding Down

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.

Tis the season of reflecting on the year that is almost behind us and looking forward to the year to come.

Here are a few things that caught my eye this week as we are rounding the corner into 2019.

Out With the Old?

The county manager this week sent a shot across the bow of the ART bus service, saying bluntly that it “stinks.” More likely than not, Mark Schwartz is just trying to get their attention, not necessarily making a threat to yank their contract next time around.

Over the past week, John Vihstadt was honored for his service on the Arlington County Board. Katie Cristol and Christian Dorsey each heaped praise upon the departing Vihstadt, no doubt hoping he would not run again in 2019 when they are both on the ballot. For his part, Vihstadt left open the possibility of running again, telling his supporters not to put away their purple.

In With the New?

The County Board also welcomed its newest member this week. Matthew de Ferranti pledged in his first ceremonial speech to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor and listen to all perspectives on the issues. It was nice rhetoric to hear as the County Board reverts to one-party rule once again, particularly facing the big Amazon vote as well as a tax rate increase that was telegraphed by the Board’s budget guidance. Only time will tell how serious he is about his promise.

A judge this week tossed out a lawsuit challenging the renaming process for Washington-Lee High School. There is no doubt that this process has been one of the most unpopular moves the School Board has made, particularly among the W-L alumni. But the ruling may clear the way for the School Board to vote on a new name on Jan. 10 with the most likely outcome that the school remains “W-L” with the “L” still TBD.

Meanwhile, Delegate Patrick Hope hopes to pass a bill through the General Assembly to allow for instant runoff voting in Arlington County Board elections. In such a system, if no candidate reaches 50 percent of the vote, the lowest vote getter would be eliminated. Then, those who voted for that person would have a second choice indicated on their ballot and those votes would be allocated accordingly. The process would repeat until someone reached a majority.

Hope’s goal is to prevent a fringe candidate from winning a crowded Democratic primary with just 20 percent of the vote. While there is absolutely no indication that such a move is necessary, Hope is forging ahead.

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The Right Note: Board Priorities — More Taxes for More Spending

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 will close out the year at its Dec. 15 meeting by considering their legislative priorities and policy statements to transmit to the Virginia General Assembly.

The Board’s top priorities are more money for education and transportation. They also would like some of the money back that was used to pay for Medicaid expansion, an initiative they supported. According to their priorities, they would be happy to pay for any spending increases with new taxes on internet sales as well as the extra revenue created by the federal tax cut. The County Board will have to get in line behind the $462.5 million shortfall in the Medicaid budget that will have to be made up first.

The policy statements are a rather extensive laundry list of 39 items, some of which have no impact on the job of our County Board other than to make a political statement.

But let’s look at a couple examples of where we agree.

Improvements in mental health services. If you talk to health care professionals, school administrators, and law enforcement, addressing mental health issues is critically important to fighting back against so many of the tragedies we see around us, including drug addiction and suicide.

Supporting law enforcement efforts across Virginia to fight against human trafficking. Many people do not realize that this modern day slavery is happening all around us. Law enforcement is already working hard on this issue, but they need our continued support.

And examples of where we disagree?

Putting the ability to raise taxes at the top of the list. Despite protestations to the contrary, Arlington County continues to take in more and more revenue each year. And our County Board has already signaled a willingness to raise taxes next year under their current authority.

“Non-partisan redistricting.” It sounds nice but may have no practical effect on the influence of politics into the process. In fact, a popular proposal to make redistricting less partisan essentially remove any accountability to the voters for the process by using an appointed commission — appointed by the party in power. And since every seat on the County Board is elected countywide, this definitely falls into the not relevant category.

The Board opines on everything from immigration, to the ERA, to solar power, to preserving trees, to the ability to impose greater local land use restrictions, to tracking our movements by keeping data from license plate readers. You should read the entire list for yourself.

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The Right Note: Be Careful What You Wish For

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.

Democrats took advantage of the anti-Washington and anti-Republican environment in Arlington to dramatically boost turnout and defeat an otherwise popular independent incumbent John Vihstadt. If you are Christian Dorsey or Katie Cristol, you may regret the outcome in 2019 if Vihstadt opts to run again.

While voter turnout trends are on the uptick, it is unlikely there will be the same surge of voter enthusiasm when there is no top of the ticket race driving votes in an odd numbered year. It would prove to be a huge advantage to Vihstadt who has a deep and loyal base of support across every political persuasion.  While it would be easy to understand if Vihstadt decides not to spend another year campaigning, he might enter the race as a favorite to take one of the two seats.

Now comes news that Cristol is making it a priority to defeat nearby Delegate Tim Hugo in 2019. While Hugo is a target for Democrats as the only inside the Beltway Republican in the General Assembly, Cristol’s beef is primarily over the taxation of Arlington’s golf courses. This is the type of thing that would invite even more money into an Arlington County Board race to help Vihstadt return the favor against Cristol.

Maybe our current Board Chair thinks Democrats cannot lose in this current environment or maybe she hasn’t thought that far ahead. Seems like an interesting play by someone up for re-election with an obvious threat still looming on the horizon.

Speaking of the 2019 elections, there are 14 different offices up for election next year including the two County Board seats, one School Board seat, commissioner of the revenue, commonwealth’s attorney, treasurer, sheriff and every Virginia Senate and House seat that includes Arlington precincts. I, for one, hope that a combination of Republicans and independents challenge each and every one of these officeholders. In a county with one party rule, it is good for the public discourse for Arlingtonians to hear a substantive debate about the direction our county and state should move in the future.

Finally, a thumbs up to the County Board finally approved the Virginia Hospital Center expansion project. This is good news for the county, even more so now as we prepare to absorb thousands more residents as a result of the Amazon announcement.

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The Right Note: Get Ready to Pay More

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.

Here is what we know. In Arlington, our property taxes go up every year. The county takes in more revenue every year than the year before. Not only that, but the county takes in more revenue than they estimate when they pass the budget every year. And as they approach each new budget year, the county estimates their will be a “budget gap” every year in order to justify rising assessments and tax rates.

Next year is no exception to any of these things. The difference this time around is talk of large “unknown” costs on top of the estimated gap is larger for next year. While the guidance to the county manager says the gap will be $20-35 million, the county is hinting it may be looking for as much as $78 million.

What are the driving factors of the gap according to the county?

Medicaid expansion, which was supposed to be “free money” from the federal government, is going to cost the county nearly $2 million in direct costs and cuts to other state funds.

Second, Arlington wants to raise the pay for its workforce.

Third, the county is anticipating more money going to Metro.

Fourth, despite borrowing millions, the county is going to spend more money out of the regular budget for ongoing maintenance. Paying for routine maintenance from the regular budget is the right thing to do, so long as we stop borrowing money on top of it.

Finally, the county is going to dedicate more money to new school facilities.

Yet, instead of setting aside the maximum amount of money from this year’s budget surplus to put towards next year’s gap, the County Board put $2 million toward a slush fund for the county manager and $6.4 million in new spending as part of the closeout spending process. The slush fund alone could have paid for the increased Medicaid costs next year. Instead, it will be new tax dollars.

To top off the messaging effort, the guidance raised the specter of layoffs for county staff. In the past, the County has been much more likely to leave current open slots unfilled than to lay anyone off. But, it sounds like service cuts to the public.

Needless to say, the county is setting the stage for a tax rate increase next year on top of the revenue increase from rising assessments. The Board did not offer any cap to the rate increase in their guidance to the county manager, so they are leaving open the possibility of it being a big one.

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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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