82°Mostly Cloudy

by Mark Kelly July 20, 2017 at 1:45 pm 0

Mark KellyThe 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 report out of Toronto is that a local man built a set of stairs at a public park after the city quoted a minimum of $65,000 to do the job — the high end for the estimate was a whopping $150,000.

By contrast, the cost for materials and labor for the completed project was $550, which was paid for by asking some neighbors to chip in.

Toronto is now threatening to tear them down until they can build the more expensive version. The city attempted to block off the eight stairs with caution tape in the interim, but from the looks of the photos, people who like using the stairs are continuing to do so anyway.

Almost certainly, the stairs were not built to city code. Just as certainly, there is no acceptable reason the project should cost at least 120 times more than your average man on the street can build it. But as we have learned in Arlington, when the government is involved in a project or “solving a problem,” it almost always costs the taxpayers more than it should.

Arlington gained national notoriety for our $1 million, open air, not quite big enough to keep you dry if it rained, bus stop. That price tag was explained away as a prototype absorbing costs for design and engineering. Then it was announced the county had lowered the cost per stop to a still mind-boggling $575,000. Better, but still equivalent to the construction costs of a rather large custom home.

Arlington this week announced it would pay nearly $3.9 million for a building assessed at $2.4 million. According to County Board chair Jay Fisette, paying 44 percent over the assessed value was the best deal they could get from the building’s owner. The total cost of moving the county’s Head Start program to the location will come in at $10.5 million once renovations are complete.

In 2014, Arlingtonians looked at the county’s record under one party rule and voted in an independent. Following up on his campaign platform, John Vihstadt lead the effort to bring a County Auditor on board.

In June, the County Board approved the County Auditor’s FY 2018 work plan. And there is nothing wrong with the plan as a first step. However, if the Board is able to dole out an extra $1.5 million for a piece of property, they should be prepared to find an additional $150,000 for the Auditor’s office budget and hire two more people to speed up the pace of reviewing how the county spends our money.

by Mark Kelly July 13, 2017 at 1:45 pm 0

Mark KellyThe 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.

Outgoing Arlington County Board chair Jay Fisette says Arlington should be a city, not a county. From a practical standpoint, it would be a distinction without a difference. Having the word “county” in our name does not give us some massive inferiority complex.

The only explanation for Fisette’s musing is a political one. If Arlington became a city, the Democrats would almost certainly move all of the city council elections to November of presidential election years to give Republicans or independents the worst chance possible of winning.

Lest you think this is political paranoia, remember that outgoing Democrats on the Alexandria city council voted in 2009 to move their elections from the spring to November after losing seats.

There is further evidence that leaving office is making Fisette a little more politically honest. In his recent State of the County address, Fisette said current Arlington Public Schools’ spending growth “is not going to be sustainable” and further made the point that “we need to reduce per-student costs.”

We spend roughly $22,000 for every child enrolled in APS now, but calling that spending into question is politically treacherous territory in Arlington.

Speaking of APS, Superintendent Murphy received an early contract extension from the School Board just as he did in 2014. The 3 to 2 vote came a full year before his current deal expired.

James Lander, who had voted against the early extension three years ago saying it might set a bad precedent, cast the deciding vote in favor of the extension this time around. While Murphy surely will not turn down the pay increase, the split vote looks to the casual observer to be a vote of “no confidence.”

In the future, if 40 percent of the Board is not ready to grant an extension early, the Board should either stick it back in the drawer or work harder to find unanimity.

Four years ago, Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s business dealings were called into question during his campaign. In the last week, we learned that the Governor’s former company GreenTech Automotive is being required to repay $6.4 million of public funds to the state of Mississippi, funds that McAuliffe helped secure while with GreenTech.

Fortunately for Virginia taxpayers, McAuliffe’s application for such assistance here was denied because of concerns about whether the company was a legitimate venture. The legitimacy of the company aside, this incident is a reminder of the danger inherent in handing out taxpayer dollars for economic development.

by Mark Kelly July 6, 2017 at 1:45 pm 0

Mark KellyThe 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 spending over $17 million for the yet-to-be-opened ART bus light maintenance facility in South Arlington, the county announced it is close to acquiring land for a third ART bus facility in Springfield.

The land cost for the heavy maintenance facility in Springfield itself is reported to be $4.65 million before up to $32 million could be added in the design and build process.

County officials admitted when the first facility was announced that it was too small to meet actual maintenance and storage needs, but that did not stop them from moving forward with it. The maintenance facilities are on top of the acquisition of land for ART bus parking in Shirlington.

As noted at the time, the South Arlington facility would save tax taxpayers $57,000 a year that Arlington pays to use existing Metrobus maintenance facilities. At that rate, the facility will pay for itself in about 308 years. If Arlington taxpayers are lucky, the heavy maintenance facility will pay for itself in 100 years or less.

Sure, Metro could stop allowing us to use their facilities, though it is hard to imagine they are looking to shed any extra revenue sources right now. Yes, it’s nice to have a facility that is our own. But spending millions on a “nice to have” project is the type of decision that can eventually get governments into financial hot water.

To put this in business terms, the decision to move forward with these maintenance facilities represents a negative return on investment. Only in government would you justify them as saving taxpayers money.

Of course, the government also calls it a spending “cut” when programs only grow by 4 percent instead of 5 percent. They also call reducing travel lanes and the resulting rush hour traffic backups, “road improvements.”

Speaking of “saving” money, our friends at the “Progressive Voice” printed more of the resolutions that the 8th District Democrats adopted this spring. On top of their list for spending money is universal health care.

With estimates of $400 billion annually to pay for universal health care in California alone, nearly $20 trillion in federal debt, and a 2017 federal budget deficit of $693 billion, there is simply no way to pay for it. And no, there not enough rich people in America to pay for it even if we doubled the amount they pay in income tax.

by Mark Kelly June 29, 2017 at 1:45 pm 0

Mark KellyThe 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.

Now that the national political parties have moved past a $50 million special election for Congress in suburban Atlanta, all eyes will begin to move to the Old Dominion.

Virginians can expect a summer and fall filled with television ads, phone calls, and people knocking on your door asking you to get out and vote in the Governor’s race. Your Facebook feed will undoubtedly be filled with political opinions.

With all the political clutter coming our way, the opportunity to hear directly from the candidates for governor and compare them side by side will be limited to three debates. That is the number of debates Democrat nominee Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam agreed to appear at after Republican nominee Ed Gillespie agreed to 10.

Northam’s decision came on the heels of debating his fellow Democrat Tom Perriello five times in the run-up to the June 13 primary. Northam did say he would make seven other joint appearances with Gillespie, but showing up at the Shad Planking and making a stump speech is hardly the same thing as answering questions.

This is a growing trend for Democratic candidates for Governor in Virginia. Former Gov. Bob McDonnell challenged Creigh Deeds to 10 debates, but Deeds only agreed to four. Ken Cuccinelli asked for 15 debates, but Gov. Terry McAuliffe only granted three.

Northam made opposition to President Trump a key component of his primary message. Both he and Perriello made it abundantly clear they were tossing aside any nods to moderation as they raced to the activist far left base and the anti-Trump Resist movement.

Standing up to a President you do not agree with is certainly fair game as a campaign issue. And if more governors pushed back against the encroachment of the federal government, we would all be better off. However, Northam’s campaign engaged in name calling rather than pushing back on specific policies.

Right now the voters of Virginia deserve to know what the current Lt. Governor would do as Governor. How would you make Virginia’s economy the best in the U.S.? What would you do to improve educational options for all Virginians? How would you address the transportation needs of Northern Virginia?

Hopefully the next few months will be filled with policy specifics and not more name calling, but don’t hold your breath in this political environment.

by Mark Kelly June 22, 2017 at 1:45 pm 0

Mark KellyThe 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.

Virginia, like a few other states, still begins its school year after Labor Day. There is nothing wrong with maintaining this practice. And if you are going on a beach vacation, those last two weeks before Labor Day often bring reduced prices as competition for space subsides.

But the final day of elementary school in Arlington is tomorrow, June 23. There is no reason it could not be the second Friday in June in all but the snowiest of years.

The Superintendent builds in a number of days throughout the year for teacher work days, as well as adding other “cushion” days to the calendar, to account for school closures while still meeting the minimum number of days necessary for instruction required by the Commonwealth of Virginia. As most parents know, after the SOLs are completed the amount of instruction that occurs in the classroom falls off dramatically. The final days of school are often filled with field days and movies.

APS could adjust the calendar for next year now and tell parents in September that not later than March 1, the system would determine if it needed to add days due to weather events into the next week of June. That would give parents enough time to adjust summer plans as necessary and would happen only rarely.

School Board candidates can add this “give a week back plan” to “no homework” as an agenda item to gain my endorsement in November.

Bloomberg to Receive a Boost

Between Virginia and Arlington, Bloomberg Bureau of National Affairs (BNA) could receive $2.5 million in benefits over the next 3 years for bringing 125 jobs to Arlington. $500,000 would be provided by the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. $800,000 would come from the Arlington County Economic Development Incentive. And $1.2 million would be allocated for the continuation of an expiring property tax exemption.

Unlike BNA and Nestlé, most employers are likely to receive $0 for creating jobs in the County over the next three years.

Meanwhile, the Arlington County Board passed another in the series of meaningless resolutions meant to weigh in on a national issue this week. The Board supported the Paris Agreement by recommitting itself to steps they were going to take anyway to make County Government more energy efficient.

That time could have been better spent on a discussion of how to make Arlington a better place to do business for those employers that aren’t receiving huge taxpayer-funded handouts.

by Mark Kelly June 15, 2017 at 2:30 pm 0

Mark KellyThe 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.

There is rarely a shortage of issues to write about in Arlington, or Virginia more broadly. But today, none of them seemed appropriate.

I have worked on Capitol Hill for most of the past two decades where members of Congress and staff are generally able to work together in a civil manner across party lines.

We care about our community. And we greatly appreciate that our ongoing safety and security is owed to the Capitol Police officers who are prepared to run into the line of fire. Speaker Paul Ryan rightly said yesterday something that cannot be understated, “an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us.”

Sadly, yesterday’s shooting is not the first attack directed at our community during my time here. In 1998, Capitol Police officers Jacob Chesnut and John Gibson were shot and killed while protecting Members of Congress, their staff and visitors in the Capitol building.

On September 11, 2001 as the Pentagon was already on fire, United Flight 93 was almost certainly headed toward the Capitol before being taken down by heroic passengers.

In October of 2001, deadly anthrax was mailed to Congressional offices.

In 2011, then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was shot while hosting a public event in Tucson, Ariz.

And then yesterday, there was an attempted massacre on a baseball field in Alexandria as Republican Members of Congress were preparing to play a game that raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for charity.

Those of us who work here are thankful for the Capitol Police officers who stepped into the line of fire to stop the attack, and we are praying for the injured, all the while knowing “there but for the grace of God, go I.” This was exemplified by the prayers of the Democratic baseball team practicing on another field immediately upon hearing the news.

Many want to immediately assign blame on the means used to carry out this attack, on political rhetoric, or on people other than the shooter. It is a natural reaction to immediately look for an explanation of why someone would ever consider using a bomb, gun, knife, or even a vehicle driving down a sidewalk to kill fellow human beings.

But this act was pure evil carried about by a madman, and it cannot ever fully be explained to those of us who believe that every human life is precious. Today, it must simply be condemned.

As we move forward with time for proper reflection, we can consider what causes such attacks to take place: the tone of our politics; the anger fomented on social media; the threat from radical groups; and the state of our mental health care system. And if we can do that without attempting to score political points, we may actually make progress toward healing in our nation.

by Mark Kelly June 8, 2017 at 1:45 pm 0

Mark KellyThe 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 Monday, The Washington Post ran the following headline: “Metro hails SafeTrack as a success, but it has yet to translate into better services for riders.”

The article was not any better for the system than the headline. After one year and nearly $160 million spent addressing decades of deferred maintenance on its basic infrastructure, the system still has miles to go on repairs.

And despite what has been hailed as a good first step for safety, there is little evidence that Metro has been able to overcome the long held view that it is unreliable.

For years, many Metro riders were willing to look past the issues with reliability, including the inability to keep escalators and elevators in operational order, because fares remained relatively low. But as fares steadily increased and the severity of incidents increased, riders walked away from the system. Now you can jump on your smart phone, order an Uber or Lyft ride with little cost difference.

The Post also ran an editorial on Monday with its own solution for the problem: a 1 percent regional sales tax to pump $650 million into the system each year.

Such a measure would almost certainly pass if put before the voters in Arlington, though it would be up to the General Assembly in Richmond as well as officials in Maryland and D.C. And some additional funding is not necessarily an unreasonable ask if we want to put the system back on its feet.

But it is also not unreasonable to exercise caution and ask for real accountability in return. While General Manager Paul Wiedefeld is largely credited with taking Metro’s safety problems seriously, and has fired staff where appropriate and allowable, little has really changed to the underlying governance of the system.

However, Monday’s Post editorial continued by carping that, “Locally, some myopic GOP elected officials grumble” about Metro asking for more money when it’s not spending money wisely now. Setting aside the near unanimity of elected officials inside the beltway who are Democrats, what is wrong with expecting Metro to be set up for success before handing them $6 billion to spend over the next decade?

And in February the Post seemingly agreed with this political “myopathy,” editorializing in favor of reforms by saying, “governance reforms are critical, including enhanced flexibility for management to control costs and rein in unions, as well as a streamlined board of directors consisting of transit, finance and management experts rather than local politicians.”

And they continued, “It’s fair to demand management improvements, governance reforms and a workable long-term recovery plan at Metro.”

The Post was correct in February. The region should demand a transformational reform plan from Metro before providing any new revenue source. Metro’s failure to do so voluntarily by now means any new money must come with strings attached.

by Mark Kelly June 1, 2017 at 1:45 pm 0

Mark KellyThe 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.

Two little discussed revenue raisers in the most recent Arlington budget were included by the County Board in April and formally voted on last week.

Your natural gas and electricity bills will go up in what was described as a “slight uptick” in a recent ARLnow story. The slight uptick is a rate increase of 50%.

Also included in the budget is an increase in local bus ride fares on ART, up 14% for adults and 18% for students.

Arlington’s ability and willingness to raise taxes and fees on its citizens is one of the biggest reasons why the county receives AAA bond ratings from all three credit rating agencies. According to the Fitch ratings, “The county’s revenue framework is solid in its unlimited ability to raise property taxes.”

So never worry that Arlington will lose its highest bond rating because the rating agencies view the taxpayers as a fully stocked ATM.

Last week, Progressive Voice published six of the 32 resolutions adopted by 8th District Democrats, under the heading of a “progressive agenda.”

While too many in the resist movement have dropped any sense of civility in the public policy debate, that the Democrats are listing what they are for should be applauded, even if we disagree.

Included in last week’s post was a dubious call to restrict the ability of your elected representatives the ability to review rules published by federal agencies by imposing a two-thirds supermajority vote to say what the law should be.

While Congress has delegated much of the rule-making authority to agencies, it still ultimately has the authority to make laws under the Constitution. If a majority of the House and Senate can agree on, and a President is willing to sign, a legislative initiative overturning a rule they believe to be out of step with the law, then our Constitutional process has worked as intended.

They also called for a $15 minimum wage across the country. It is still too early to tell what all of the impacts of this change will be in cities like Seattle who have been phasing it in.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 98 percent of full-time workers earn more than the current minimum wage. About 50% of those making the federal minimum wage are high school and college age, often working their first job or a job to help pay for expenses while in school.

Interestingly, 89 percent of teenagers who work are already making more than the current minimum wage. Any policy that has the potential to reduce opportunities for people to learn how to work on their first job on the economic ladder should be viewed with skepticism.

The list included criminal justice reform. This is an area where there is a good deal of crossover appeal to liberty-minded Republicans who believe that “overcriminalization” in America has resulted in over-incarceration and that individuals who made a mistake but want to put their lives together to be productive members of society should be given every opportunity to do so. Hopefully lawmakers on both sides will find areas of agreement in this area that can be passed into law.

by Mark Kelly May 25, 2017 at 1:45 pm 0

Mark KellyThe 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 is no secret that Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) wants to expand Medicaid in Virginia.It is also no secret that the General Assembly will not vote to give him that authority.

It is perfectly ok for the Governor to keep taking his case to the public to try and put pressure on the General Assembly to come around to his way of thinking. He has continually done so, but with no success.

Not only has the General Assembly refused to pass expansion, it has gone so far as to include in its budget a prohibition against any attempt by the Governor to assume that authority through executive action. The Governor has attempted to line-item veto that provision in the budget.

The problem for McAuliffe is the Virginia Supreme Court has held that under our Constitution, a Governor cannot veto a condition of Medicaid without vetoing all of the funding for Medicaid. In light of this well-established precedent, the General Assembly rightly ignored that veto as being improper.

Then earlier this month, McAuliffe issued an executive order instructing state agencies to treat his veto as binding. Now if his administration attempts to implement Medicaid expansion through executive authority, it will open the entire subject up to legal challenges much like his executive order on restoring felon voting rights did — a case he lost for ignoring the law.

Whether you are for Medicaid expansion or against it, it should give you pause when a Governor attempts to do an end run around the Virginia Constitution. Worse yet, the Governor is trying to make this end run with the ultimate goal of re-writing Virginia’s Medicaid laws from the executive branch before he leaves office.

The Governor’s spokesman pointed out the Governor was issuing this executive order because he was elected on his promise to expand Medicaid. What the Governor’s spokesman left out of the statement is that a majority of the General Assembly was elected on the promise not to. And like it or not, they are the branch of government charged with writing the laws.

Democrats who support Medicaid expansion should ask themselves, is it worth establishing a precedent for a future Republican Governor to have power to both ignore line item veto restrictions and rewrite laws over the objection of the General Assembly in the executive branch?

by Mark Kelly May 18, 2017 at 3:45 pm 0

Mark KellyThe 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.

Congratulations to Erik Gutshall for winning the Democrats’ County Board caucus. Now Republicans should nominate an opponent.

I have met Erik on a couple occasions since he first decided to run against Libby Garvey last year. We have children who attend Gunston Middle School together. In this politically charged time, we have shared in civil conversations. I like Erik.

But Erik is running his campaign on the same “progressive values” as the man he seeks to replace. His website could very well say, “if you elect me, the next four years will be just like the last 20.”

So here are four reasons Republicans should nominate a candidate or endorse an Independent who is committed to shaking up the status quo:

  1. Erik Gutshall supported Arlington’s efforts to give economic development handouts to large corporations. While we may not be able to stop the “me too” economic development giveaway approach right away, the primary focus of the next county board member should be to improve the business climate for job creators of every shape and size. The time for talk on making Arlington’s bureaucracy better is over. The next Board member should offer a comprehensive reform plan from zoning to the business license tax and call on the Board to start acting on it within the first six months.
  2. We need a Board member willing to ask tough questions on transportation decisions, like narrowing streets in a way that creates more traffic congestion. But the number one transportation priority for the next County Board member is to demand a Metro reorganization in exchange for additional Arlington tax dollars. Arlington has simply not demonstrated enough leadership on this critical system dating back to the years Chris Zimmerman served on the WMATA board.
  3. John Vihstadt needs an ally with a 100 percent commitment to spending within our means. Vihstadt has found a niche on the Board. He has worked with fellow members to achieve some positive results to hold the county accountable. But it is difficult to imagine a scenario where anyone else on the Board would support a year over year freeze in spending, even if you could demonstrate why circumstances warranted it (school enrollments significantly declined for example). There is simply a super-majority bias, four to one, to spend more. Erik would not change this ratio.
  4. Vihstadt also needs an ally committed to reforming the year-end closeout process. It essentially amounts to a slush fund for County Board members to spend every year. In the same light, a new Board member should bring transparency to the revenue estimates which are continually low, require the Board to raise taxes, and yet produces tens of millions in year-end surpluses every year. Libby Garvey has expressed a willingness to consider reforms to the process, but two votes for it only gets you a discussion, not a majority for reform.

A Republican (or an Independent committed to similar principles*) may not ultimately win, but they should run. Republicans have until June 13 to make a nomination.

*With all due respect to perennial candidate Audrey Clement, it should be someone new.

by Mark Kelly May 11, 2017 at 12:45 pm 0

Mark KellyThe 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.

At the end of April, County Manager Mark Schwartz presented the County Board with a plan to put the construction of the Long Bridge Aquatics Center back on track. The timing of the announcement came as a surprise to many, but was met with excitement from those who have long pushed for a facility.

The facility had been shelved three years ago because the County Manager could not find a bid to build out the original plans with the $79 million available. According to some familiar with the process, none of the bids on the 116,000 square foot facility were even close. And there was little political will at the time to go back to the voters for more funding.

The already approved bonds had been voted on under a generic “parks and recreation” banner instead of holding a straight up or down vote on funding the facility. The Board has provided more detail about projects in recent bond questions, but future projects of this size and scope should receive a straight up or down vote to stand or fall on their own merit.

The Good – At a price tag of $63 million to $67 million for a 73,000 square foot facility, the County Manager looks like he may have solved the problem of going back to voters for more bonding authority.  There is currently $64 million earmarked for the project out of $79 million in bonds that voters originally approved.

The Remaining Questions

(1) The more recent update of operating cost information projects a $2 million drop in annual costs while slightly increasing revenue from programming. The projection reflects a drop in the net taxpayer subsidy to the facility from $3.2 million to about $1 million annually. As the pool project moved through the process a few years ago, the ongoing operational costs continued to balloon.

(2) The County Manager provided few answers into any real work he had done to investigate corporate partnerships, agreements with local universities or naming rights to help offset the construction or ongoing costs. It would be nice to know if this facility could be operated at zero net cost to the county on an ongoing basis.

(3) The Long Bridge project is still nearly three times the cost of an aquatics center that Alexandria plans to build. Both facilities will include a 50m pool, but the Arlington facility will be a custom designed building, include an additional pool and provide additional fitness space.

There is still work to be done before the aquatics center project receives the final go ahead. Taxpayers will be best served if the pressure remains to keep both up-front and ongoing costs in check.

by Mark Kelly April 27, 2017 at 2:00 pm 0

Mark KellyThe 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 night Arlington Republicans honored longtime community activist Jim Pebley. Pebley is retiring and heading south to North Carolina.

From the Planning Commission to the Civic Federation, to leading community efforts on the U.S.S. Arlington and much more, Pebley built a stellar reputation across party lines for working to make Arlington a better place to live, work and raise a family. The only thing missing from his resume was holding elected office, something many of us tried to convince him to do over the years.

As a veteran of community activism, Pebley quipped during his remarks that “Arlington is Latin for having many meetings.” Regardless of the meeting-heavy “Arlington Way,” Pebley used his remarks to encourage Republicans to follow his lead and actively engage in the community and learn how the county is actually run.

Republicans also heard from County Board member John Vihstadt, who like Pebley was a longtime community leader before winning a County Board seat as an Independent.

After discussing items including the resurrected Long Bridge Aquatics Center, Vihstadt discussed the recently passed budget. To Vihstadt’s credit, he worked hard to cut back the tax increase on the average homeowner from around 4.7 percent to 4.2 percent.

What Vihstadt did not discuss was the County Board’s attempt to quietly include a pay raise of 3.5 percent to their salaries, roughly $1,800 for the members and $2,000 for the chair.

Vihstadt made a motion at the Saturday meeting to vote on the pay raise separately from the raises given to other county employees. He was met with strong opposition from all four Democrats, and the Board voted 4-1 against taking a straight up or down vote on raising their own salaries.

Both Libby Garvey and Katie Cristol defended the raise as warranted for the workload. Then Christian Dorsey said, “this is not a raise.”

Yes, it is. You knew what the job paid when you ran for it. And if you want to raise your pay before your next term, then please be willing to take a vote on it.

Dorsey also noted that he did not get a raise last year when, “we did a tax decrease.”

No, taxes went up last year. Assessments went up more than the tax rate went down, therefore people paid more in taxes. This phony notion that taxes don’t go up just because the rate went down is ludicrous and should be stripped from the vocabulary of every Board member.

Chair Jay Fisette then went on to scold Vihstadt for having the temerity to bring the issue up in an open session for public consumption where it would be reported rather than hashing it out behind closed doors. In other words, Fisette admitted he didn’t want to have a debate about raising County Board pay on the taxpayers’ dime in front of the taxpayers.

The comments made by Dorsey and Fisette are a perfect example of why the Washington Post-ABC poll found that nationally 67 percent of all voters, and 44 percent of Democrats, believe the Democratic Party is out of touch with the concerns of the average person. They are also representative of why Vihstadt was elected in the first place.

by Mark Kelly April 20, 2017 at 1:45 pm 2 Comments

Mark KellyThe 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 spent around $300 million building three new high schools over the past decade. The most logical solution to the need for additional classroom seats would be to add on to the existing structures.

The problem: those schools were largely planned when school officials were betting on studies showing school enrollments stable or going down, not up. As a result, little thought was given to the ability to expand those facilities at a later date.

Much will be made of this painful process over the weeks and months to come. Parents who quite possibly moved into a neighborhood so their children could attend their preferred high school in the future will be upset if new lines force them into a new school. Neighborhoods surrounding the new site will complain about traffic and loss of green space, even stadium lights. Fiscal watchdogs will not like the cost.

The fact is, there is no good solution to finding a new location. There is almost certainly only a “least bad” one.

And who agreed with my position on the Nestlé subsidy?

At this week’s Young Democrats candidate forum, the Democratic candidates for the County Board seemed to share my concern that the giant corporation received $12 million in tax incentives while existing Arlington businesses received nothing.

A quick check of the candidate’s websites finds a mixed bag of results as to how big a priority it is for them. Neither Kim Klingler or Peter Fallon’s issues pages have an entire section dedicated to making Arlington’s policies more business friendly, though Klingler does make mention of improving county services. Vivek Patil’s site has some talking points, but no real specific plans.

Erik Gutshall has the most extensive section on the economy. While it calls for regulatory improvements, it also restates things the County Board is already doing in the name of “economic development” including fully funding incentives like the one given to the candy giant.

Yes, a shot in the arm for the local economy benefits everyone. However, the current overriding philosophy is to give advantages to new businesses over existing businesses. Arlington, and Virginia as a whole, can and should do more than throw our tax dollars at economic development. Tax and regulatory relief along with streamlining bureaucratic processes should be the top priorities to make our economies thrive.

And an independent or Republican County Board candidate who made improving the local economy the top priority would be a welcome addition to the field.

by Mark Kelly April 13, 2017 at 1:45 pm 0

Mark KellyThe 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.

Republicans in the General Assembly have rejected Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s (D) call to expand Medicaid once again. The governor made the last minute push after Congress failed to pass a new plan in March. Here are four reasons to question the wisdom of passing expansion.

Congress could still partially repeal the law this year. Reports from Washington are that the American Health Care Act could be amended in such a way that it will have the votes to pass. If so, Virginia’s expansion would not be able to go forward even if it passed the General Assembly.

Virginia is not losing out on a pot of federal money sitting out there just waiting to be spent. The federal government is running an estimated $559 billion deficit his year. We would simply be borrowing more money to pay for Medicaid expansion.

Virginians will be responsible for at least 10% of the expansion costs. Assuming McAuliffe’s assertion that Virginia could collect $6.6 million per day under Medicaid expansion, Virginians would have to pay around $700,000 per day to receive it. Even if the law remains in place, this share is likely to go up over time as the federal budget deficit moves toward $1 trillion a year.

My friend over at Peter’s Take noted that Virginia Hospitals have offered to cover Virginia’s share. It should make Virginians wonder exactly how much money hospitals stand to make under the arrangement? In many states that implemented expansion, costs to the state were higher than originally projected, so we could also ask just how much the hospitals are willing to pay and for how long?

Medicaid is still substandard healthcare. Many studies have found Medicaid produces worse health outcomes, in large part due to lack of access to primary care physicians. A better focus for McAuliffe and the Republican-controlled General Assembly should have been working together to pass tax and regulatory policy changes that result in economic growth and create jobs with health insurance benefits to move individuals into the private market.

by Mark Kelly April 6, 2017 at 3:00 pm 0

Mark KellyThe 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.

Just as with our county budget, no one can argue with a straight face that our school budget is strained. We are consistently tops in the region in per pupil spending.

In the past I have asked for an explanation of what makes up the difference between the reported $18,957 per pupil spending and the $22,032 of actual spending. Per pupil spending would increase by $564 under the proposed FY 2018 budget.

It might also be interesting to see a study on budgetary savings from ending homework. There has to be some savings on paper and copier toner.

Last week, Peter’s Take discussed long range budget planning at Arlington Public Schools. His ideas to increase community and County Board engagement would represent a common-sense step in the right direction.

Here are two specific ideas to spark conversation about the APS budget:

Scrap the Revenue Sharing Agreement

As a candidate for County Board, I met with the Arlington Education Association Board and fielded their questions. One of the questions that day was whether I supported a revenue sharing agreement that guaranteed APS would receive 46.5 percent of county revenue.

I answered no.

As you might imagine, the answer met with shocked looks at the table. Why come to this meeting where I was supposedly seeking an endorsement and turn down one of the top requests?

My argument was simple. Why reduce the needs of Arlington schools to a few lines on an Excel spreadsheet? Why not leave open the possibility that sometimes they may need more, or less?

So instead of writing a school budget to an arbitrary 46.5 percent share of revenue, APS should write a budget based on demonstrable needs.

This approach could result in the school receiving a larger share out of the annual budget in some years. It might mean they no longer automatically receive a share of closeout funds, which would take away an administration slush fund.

This line of thinking would certainly require a closer relationship between the County Board and the School Board. It also would shine a brighter light on the APS budget, by requiring another layer of accountability for its spending.

Give APS Maximum Flexibility on Student-Teacher Ratios

Arlington’s enrollment is increasing. However, the growth has slowed down over the projections from a couple years ago. As Arlington works to deal with the uncertainty in increasing enrollment to determine the construction of new buildings, the community should give school administrators some room to make commonsense decisions in the short run.

Superintendent Patrick Murphy included increasing the ratios by one student per classroom as a way to find budget savings in this year’s budget proposal. Based on how the community has reacted in the past, the idea will almost certainly be shot down again.

This issue simply causes reflexive reactions from people who have been conditioned to think that any increase in ratios will have a devastating impact on educational outcomes. However, academic studies have not always backed up this view.

×

Subscribe to our mailing list