Arlington, VA

Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mike LiebermanArlington occupies only 26.5 square miles — a geographic fact that looms larger and larger as we confront the challenges of a growing community on the doorstep of Washington.

Our school population is growing — projected to exceed 30,000 students in five years. More than 20 percent of our business office space is vacant, hit hard by sequestration, BRAC, GSA cutbacks, and other government spending cuts. And development has exploded and property values have increased, creating unprecedented challenges to affordable housing and the neighborhood feel of Arlington.

That’s why I believe that it is so important now that the County Board and School Board have formed a Community Facilities Study Committee — which meets for the first time this week — to analyze our current financial resources and physical assets, discuss our infrastructure challenges, and make recommendations for our community to move forward.

In some ways, the premise of the committee is unimpeachable — of course there is value in knowing what assets we have and planning for where we are going. But there are aspects of the committee that I believe make it particularly well-suited to the task at hand.

For one, it represents a collaborative effort between the County Board and School Board. All too often, the County Board and School Board have felt siloed. To be sure, there have been cooperative efforts among board members and initiatives that have broken through these walls, but in general, the School Board has focused on schools, and the County Board has tended to focus on other community needs.  The Community Facilities Study Committee will bring both boards into the same conversation.

Similarly, the committee is structured to bring all community groups to the table. County interests are represented by current members and veterans of several county advisory bodies. School interests are represented by members of school advisory councils and PTAs. And neighborhood interests are represented by members of civic associations from across Arlington. This diversity of views will help ensure that all interests have voice as the committee divides limited land and budget resources.

Finally, the committee represents a bipartisan effort premised on community engagement — the so-called “Arlington Way.” This will begin with monthly “resident forums,” and it will continue as the diverse views of committee members are heard and factored over the course of a year of discussion.

In 1975, the county plans that served as the foundation of our vibrant Rosslyn-Ballston corridor were the product of extensive community discussion and engagement. The Community Facilities Study Committee rightfully recognizes that that same model is needed for Arlington’s next chapter.

To be sure, even with the right structure, the committee faces no easy task. There is no shortage of strong viewpoints in Arlington, and no shortage of constituents willing to voice them. Read More

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Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mike LiebermanRight before last week’s election, David Letterman’s said in his nightly monologue:

“Take a look at this: gas under $3 a gallon. Unemployment under 6 percent, whoever thought? Stock market breaking records every day. No wonder [President Obama] is so unpopular.”

In three short lines, Letterman encapsulated thoughts of Democrats around the country.

By many metrics, the country is better off than when Barack Obama took office. To Letterman’s metrics, I would add a resurgent American auto industry, millions more Americans with health insurance, extricating ourselves from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (albeit with an escalating military presence against ISIS), and expanding access to higher education and quality jobs.

And yet, on Election Day, Democrats across the country took a drubbing.  Even in Virginia, once-invincible Mark Warner eked out only a narrow victory.

Many Democrats wonder how is it, given what is going right, that people could still be so dissatisfied?

The answer, I believe, is simple. People are not necessarily upset with any one metric, one issue, or even with the state of our country generally. They are upset with the dysfunction of our government, which has muted these successes. On Tuesday, people voted against the party in control of the White House and Senate — or in many cases, they didn’t vote at all.

In recent years, the tone of discourse in Washington has been toxic. There is rarely a day without reports about one party attacking the other. Mitch McConnell’s No. 1 legislative goal was to thwart President Obama’s political agenda. President Obama blamed Republican obstructionism for a lack of progress. The media exacerbates this problem by scorekeeping on who’s up and who’s down after each round of finger pointing. And the public is simply left to throw up its hands.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. In 2008, voters turned out in record numbers for Barack Obama on the promise of a post-partisan Washington — where the parties could come together to hash out compromise on tough issues. Younger voters in particular responded to this positive message.

Yet six years later, little in Washington has changed. If anything, the tone is worse. The 2008 voters are therefore left to question why they should even participate in elections at all.

Political inaction on tough issues simply feeds this narrative. Indeed, all too often our government shirks tough decisions in the interest of perceived political expediency.

For example, on immigration reform, both Republicans and Democrats agree that our current system isn’t working, that immigrants have a role to play in our economy, that we would benefit from more security on our borders, and that the growing influx of immigrants on our southern border has created an unsustainable humanitarian crisis. Though there is disagreement about how these factors should be prioritized in an immigration “fix,” the seeds of compromise should exist.

Yet rather than undertake the tough negotiations needed to reach agreement, both sides were content to let the issue lapse and instead trade barbs over who was to blame. This is not governing, and it is not what we send our representatives to Washington to do.

Last Tuesday, voters took out their frustrations on Democrats. Now that Republicans control both the Senate and the House, I believe they will face the same voter backlash if they do not change their approach. Mitch McConnell’s statement immediately following that election that he wants to “work together [with President Obama] on issues where we can agree” is a good — albeit tepid — start, as was President Obama’s similar overture. Read More

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

Mike LiebermanOn July 19, the Arlington County Board voted to send $219 million in bond funding to the public for approval on the November ballot.

The bond program this year runs the gamut — $105.78 million for education, $60.24 million for Metro and transportation, $39.9 million for community infrastructure, and $13 million for parks and recreation. These proposals represent the next step in a long Arlington tradition of community investment, and our world-class public infrastructure and well-managed growth in Arlington are the end result.

But often lost in the big numbers of these bond programs is what makes them so effective — the fact that Arlington is not only investing, but living within its means. This fact was validated again in May of this year when Arlington announced that Moody’s, Fitch, and Standard & Poor’s again issued Arlington a triple/AAA bond rating for the 14th year in a row.

These ratings assess the likelihood that a municipality will repay investors the debts it owes; a triple/AAA rating means that repayment is virtually assured. Arlington was one of only 39 counties nationwide to receive this highest bond rating from all three agencies.

The benefit of this rating is manifest each year in the market. In May of this year, for example, Arlington announced that it received a 2.8 percent interest rate for a $65 million general obligation bond sale. Counties with bond ratings of AA, A, or lower generally experience interest rates more than 3 or 4 percent, or even higher to secure the same amount of funding.

This is not rocket science. If a county has its budget in order, and a prudent planning process in place, investors want to invest in that county, and are willing to offer favorable financial terms for the opportunity.

But what does that mean in real terms?  It means that Arlington can spend far less of its tax dollars on debt service, and more on public programs than its peer jurisdictions. That means more dollars collected are actually spent on school construction, improved parks, transportation improvements, and the other public infrastructure we have come to expect in Arlington.

At a time when the news is peppered with examples of financial mismanagement — including a downgraded bond rating for the U.S. government — it should be reassuring to all Arlingtonians that we live in a community that stands as an exception to this trend.

Community investment is what made Arlington what it is, and the ability to continue to make investments at an affordable rate, and with responsible debt service, will help ensure Arlington’s continued success for many years to come.

Mike Lieberman is the Immediate Past Chair of the Arlington County Democratic Committee and a former member of the Arlington Fiscal Affairs Advisory Commission.

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Progressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. It is written by a rotating group of contributors. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Mike LiebermanLast year, Arlington Democrats campaigned for statewide and House of Delegates candidates on a message of carrying Arlington’s values to Richmond. During the past two weeks, these efforts have borne fruit, with major progressive actions taken by our governor and attorney general, both of whom were elected with strong support from Arlington voters.

Today, I focus on Attorney General Mark Herring’s announcement last month that instantly provided access to higher education for 8,000 Virginia residents who have successfully completed high school or its equivalent and who were brought to the United States as children by parents who were undocumented immigrants.

These students, called Dreamers (named after the DREAM Act), can now qualify for in-state tuition at Virginia’s public colleges and universities. With his two-page letter, Mr. Herring broke through a logjam in the General Assembly that had seemingly stalled progress indefinitely on the Virginia Dreamers’ access to higher education in the state where they grew up and achieved K-12 academic success.

From a policy perspective, Mr. Herring’s decision is beyond common sense. Dreamers are children whose status as undocumented immigrants was most often not a choice of their making. Indeed, in many cases, these children came to the United States as babies. Many may not even know the circumstances of their arrival in the United States. Yet they have been successful students and contributed to the vibrancy of our communities in many ways.

Dreamers have completed their education at Virginia high schools, in many cases with honors. They have maintained a clean record. They want to become even more productive members of society by going to college and getting a degree. Put simply, these are the type of productive Virginians that we want and need in our communities.

By gaining admission to Virginia’s institutions of higher education, they will not only enrich those colleges and universities through their hard work and desire to succeed, but they will also have the opportunity to remain in our Commonwealth and positively contribute to our economy and workforce — following the path of hard working immigrants seen throughout the American experience.

Long before Attorney General Herring’s action, Arlington led the way as a champion for Virginia Dreamers.

School Board Member Emma Violand-Sanchez is the chair of Arlington’s Dream Project, dedicated to encouraging and supporting promising immigrant youth in their pursuit of higher education through mentoring, scholarships, advocacy, and community outreach.

Our Del. Alfonso Lopez and state Sen. Adam Ebbin have been patrons and champions of the DREAM Act as General Assembly members. Our County Board, led on this issue by Walter Tejada, has made passage of the DREAM Act a legislative priority for Arlington.

I am proud to live in a community that not only speaks about its values of inclusion and diversity, but takes steps to translate them into action.

Republicans in the General Assembly, by contrast — and indeed, some right here in our community — have decried Attorney General Herring’s decision as overreaching. Read More

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