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by Mark Kelly — October 27, 2016 at 1:45 pm 0

GOP county board candidate 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.

As many as 120,000 Arlingtonians will head to the polls for the November 8th election. Based on the last two presidential election cycles, it is likely 70% or more will vote for Hillary Clinton to become the next president. While many voters will not get past the top of the ticket, a strong majority of Clinton supporters will almost certainly give Democrat Libby Garvey another term on the County Board.

Garvey should be commended for breaking with her fellow Democrats from time to time. Her courage to back Independent candidate John Vihstadt, to stand up against the Columbia Pike streetcar, and to call for more accountability from county government is laudable.

Yet most Republicans recognize that Garvey’s overall governing philosophy is largely in line with her fellow Democrats. She has shown no real commitment to reducing the overall tax burden of homeowners. And she agreed to bring forward a vote on new regulations on homeowners who wish to list their properties on Airbnb even though Virginia General Assembly is likely to supersede those regulations in 2017.

Many Republicans looking to cast a vote against Democrat leadership in the county are likely to vote for Audrey Clement. The perennial Green turned Independent candidate has campaigned for greater fiscal restraint and tax relief. She also cites environmental concerns in opposing commercial real estate development and an additional express lane on 395. And Clement supports expanding Arlington’s efforts to preserve affordable housing.

The School Board race holds even less suspense than the County Board election. Only two candidates are on the ballot for two seats, and they are the two who won the Democratic endorsement earlier this year.

It would serve the community well if a Republican ran for these offices every year rather than leaving them uncontested. An electoral contest provides the voters with the opportunity to hear a real debate on the issues and forces Democrats to make a case for the vote. However, it is understandable that many Republicans who are qualified to serve take a pass on the race when they consider the uphill climb against the Democrat machine in the county.

Here’s a suggestion for Republicans and Republican-leaning Independents who want to vote for a Republican for County Board or School Board: write one in.

It only takes a few extra seconds of your time when you fill out your ballot. And there are many Republicans serving on board and commissions as well as leaders in civic associations who would be qualified to serve on the County Board.

You probably also know an education professional or PTA leader who is a Republican and would bring value to the School Board as well. For me, it will be a “no homework” candidate.

Mark Kelly is the chairman of the 8th District Republican Committee, a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Mark Kelly — October 20, 2016 at 2:00 pm 0

GOP county board candidate 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.

This month County Board Chair Libby Garvey put forward the idea of giving a raise to County Board Members. Garvey suggested the salaries could be raised from the current $51,500 ($56,500 for the Chair) to the median income of Arlington, around $110,000.

Under our form of government in Virginia, the raise cannot occur until after the 2019 election when two seats are up once again which means any raise would not take effect until 2020. Every single member of the Board will have been elected or re-elected at that point, which would give the public plenty of time to speak on the issue.

Board Member John Vihstadt opposed the massive pay raise and said it was valuable for Board Members to hold other jobs. I agree.

There is no compelling evidence that turning the Board into a full-time legislative body would improve the outcomes, making a full-time salary unnecessary. Moreover, having to hold down a real job puts a Board Member on par with the average Arlingtonian who wants to speak on an issue at 9 a.m. on a Saturday after a long week at work.

While Garvey’s suggestion of essentially doubling the salary may set an unrealistic ceiling for the discussion, giving the Board some level of a raise is not something this fiscal conservative would dismiss out-of-hand. While it is public service, Board Members should be compensated fairly — taking into account that a Board Member cannot go out to dinner or even to a neighborhood block party without essentially being “on the job.”

But if a majority the Board really wants the public to be accepting of any raise, they could start by making a case for why they deserve it in this year’s close-out discussions.

The Board should be given credit for creating a close-out process that seeks more public input. However, they did not address essential questions for the public to consider.

Why is there always a revenue windfall? Why is the automatic assumption that the revenue windfall should be spent? Why not consider using the revenue to lower the tax rate for 2017?

Revenue once again came in significantly over projections — $29 million to be exact. And as I have pointed out repeatedly, this underestimation happens every single year. The money is spent at close-out time. Then the County Manager issues a report telling us we have a mythical budget gap requiring taxes to go up next year. And the cycle continues.

They call the revenue estimates the result of “fiscally responsible budgeting.” But the real result has been a bias towards higher and higher spending fueled by more property tax revenue.

If Board Members want public support for a raise in 2020, they should consider giving the taxpayers a “raise.” The Board should vote to give the next four years of excess revenue back to the taxpayers instead of spending it in the close-out process.

Mark Kelly is the chairman of the 8th District Republican Committee, a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Mark Kelly — October 13, 2016 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.

For much of the past decade, many community activists along with some political candidates have called for the County Board and School Board to streamline operations and avoid duplication of services. This month, the two Boards held a joint work session and produced a draft charter for a Joint Facilities Advisory Commission.

The new Commission would be made up of no more than 20 members, appointed to two year terms, who would not serve for more than six consecutive years. The members will be charged with long range planning of facility needs.

The draft charge also reads that the Commission should be a “forum where fresh and creative ideas can be discussed freely,” a directive that should be taken to heart. There should be no room for Commission members who are afraid to challenge the status quo or conventional wisdom.

While this is only a draft charge, it is unlikely to see major substantive changes. Here are some recommendations of changes to make before it is finalized:

  1. The Boards should appoint fewer than 20 members (12 may be ideal). In my experience serving on committees, smaller ones are generally more effective, particularly if the members are appointed for their substantive knowledge, not political considerations.
  1. The Boards should agree to charge the Commission with specific projects to consider each year. The current charge contains projects to be evaluated in 2017 (a list that may actually be a little long to cover adequately in just four meetings). Setting specific projects to be considered with a specific deadline for recommendations will keep the Commission focused.
  1. The Commission should be charged with quantifying savings to the overall county budget gained by consolidating a project. This is one of the main reasons people called for this process — to save taxpayers money (and maybe even return it to the taxpayers through lower property taxes). The budget analysis should also include any impacts joint use would have on the current revenue sharing principles.

While fiscal conservatives may hold out little hope our taxes will go down as a result of this process, we still value government that spends our money wisely. So, kudos to the Boards for bringing the idea one step closer to reality.

Mark Kelly is the chairman of the 8th District Republican Committee, a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

by Mark Kelly — October 6, 2016 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.

Another week brings yet another damaging news cycle for Metro.

This time, it was a series of scathing reports from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). FTA found Metro was not operating trains on a clear traffic pattern during SafeTrack surges. FTA officials were denied access for inspections. Metro officials delayed repairs identified by FTA. And earlier this summer, FTA found some Metro inspectors had been inadequately trained.

Despite the best efforts of Metro’s new General Manager to implement a culture of safety, the message has clearly not permeated through the ranks. And the FTA’s findings are just more bad news for the system.

Metro also announced in August ridership was down 11 percent in the preceding quarter. That’s 8 million trips fewer than the same quarter the year before. For the entire fiscal year, ridership was down 6 percent.

And Metro reported only 42 percent of riders viewed the system as reliable. That number would almost certainly be lower if those who had not already abandoned the system were also surveyed.

Some dissatisfied individuals have simply returned to their own vehicles as fares increased while gasoline prices have decreased. Many have turned to services like Uber and Lyft. Uber launched a carpooling service where multiple individuals share rides at a price that is comparable in some cases to riding Metro, in in most cases much more reliable.

The ridership losses accounted for $58 million in lost revenue for the 2016 fiscal year. And, the agency did not actually have an overall budget shortfall for the year. Yet, Board Chairman Evans called for $300 million more from Congress, and $1 billion overall, to bail them out.

The facts continue to point to mismanagement of the system and a broken culture as the primary reasons for its woes. But WMATA Board Chairman Evans continues to say all would be solved with “more money.”

At some point everyone should say enough is enough and demand a total reboot of WMATA. The last thing we should do is give the current leadership an additional $1 billion with no strings attached.

by Mark Kelly — September 29, 2016 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.

The idea of a “Blue Ribbon Panel” charged with bringing independent thinking to Arlington’s strategic planning process left me cautiously optimistic. A temporary group empowered to break out of a status quo mindset and provide truly independent analysis could have been a good source of insight for Arlington’s leaders.

After initially moving the independent panel forward with the support of all but one of her colleagues, Garvey blinked in the face of pressure from a relatively small group of powerful insiders. And this week, the County Board officially surrendered to those who are afraid of what an independent group might recommend. Instead, the Board charged the County Manager with forming a staff team to review county priorities.

While I appreciate Board Chair Garvey’s desire to reach a compromise that advanced even the smallest of reforms, it seems like even calling it a small step forward is optimistic. This group may very well produce a new idea or two, but not from a fresh perspective. The County Manager will continue to control the process of how existing staff will provide advice to the Board.

Why isn’t the County Manager doing this type of ongoing review already?

And, if it so hard for the Board to agree to an independent panel to make reform recommendations, how hard would it be for them to vote for any real reforms?

Garvey is finding out about the biggest headaches of sitting in the center seat and holding the gavel: Arlington’s Board Chair only serves a one year term and really has only limited power in setting the Board’s agenda. If three of the other Board Members do not like an initiative, they can simply find ways to run out the clock.

This one-and-done tradition is long engrained in Arlington, and may very well prevent as many bad ideas from moving forward as good ones. But often it simply lends itself to allowing “the way we’ve always done it” to march on with little change for the better.

by Mark Kelly — September 22, 2016 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.

Promise to ban homework: through middle school or at least at the elementary school level.

Nothing causes more stress on an ongoing basis in our house then ensuring homework is completed during the school year. Turns out academic studies continue to show it may just be a lot of stress for no (or virtually no) academic benefit in return, particularly in elementary school and quite possibly all the way through high school.

Worse, at the elementary school level, studies have found it has a negative impact on children’s attitudes toward school. And it’s certainly no picnic for parents who often find themselves at a kitchen table 30 minutes past bedtime forcing their child to complete an assignment.

If it’s not providing real benefits to our children, if it threatens to turn our children off to a love of learning and if it decreases quality of life at home, why do we continue to require it?

I have engaged in conversations with other adults about my belief in ending homework. Some were aghast at the suggestion. When I pointed to several academic studies on the topic, they had no real objective arguments in response other than something along the lines of, “well, it’s good for them,” or “it teaches them responsibility,” or “it’s good practice.”

A recent poll asked the following question:

A Massachusetts school system has now ended all homework and extended the school day two hours in hopes of improving student performance. Do you favor or oppose a no-homework policy coupled with a longer school day in your community?

After my informal survey, I’m not surprised that 51 percent of people polled oppose a policy to ban homework in exchange for a longer school day while 33 percent approved.

I cannot tell you whether people are more opposed to banning homework or to forcing kids to be in school longer every day. My best guess is it’s a little bit of both. But I would also venture a guess that a majority of those polled have no idea what the academic research on the topic actually says.

Arlington is among the most educated counties in the country. That should mean we are open to what the research says on the topic of homework. It is certainly worthy of a public debate, and could just be a vote-getter.

by Mark Kelly — September 15, 2016 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.

Recently, Arlington Democrats unanimously backed $316 million in new borrowing proposals. I was not at the meeting, but I would venture a guess that no one asked how much of this money should be paid for out of the regular budget, including road paving, park maintenance, facilities maintenance, landscaping, and street lights?

It is not to say that all of the spending in the bond proposals is without merit. And, the Board deserves credit for publishing a more detailed explanation of the bonds. However, the ongoing practice of pushing what should be annual budget items into bonds should come to an end.

And how much debt do we currently have?

For FY 2017, our total debt burden is $951 million. This round of bonds will push us over $1 billion. By 2021, our total debt will be $1.23 billion — an increase of 29% over current levels.

Currently, the per capita debt is $4,317. In 2021, every man, woman and child will owe $5,270.

For FY 2017, our total annual debt service budget cost is $109.7 million between the schools and general government. It is slated to grow to $143 million over the next five years. And our debt service to expenditure ratio is projected to rise and hover just under the 10% cap credit ratings agencies look to for maintaining our AAA rating.

These bonds will almost certainly pass because Arlington voters have proven time and again to be OK with the borrow, spend and tax philosophy. The voters continue to support the notion that maintaining a never-ending level of “manageable” debt is desirable.

But continuing to max out our credit card is a dangerous game. The current run of historically low interest rates combined with county revenue that has outpaced inflation has fueled this borrowing boom. What happens if there is a spike in interest rates? Or what if Arlington experienced the type of economic recession which makes it impossible for revenue to continue to rise?

Unfortunately, Arlington Republicans have failed to field a candidate for either the County Board or the School Board. Sure, it’s a presidential election year which presses the Democrat advantage to the maximum level in the county. However, without Republican candidates making a case of how to apply our principles to the issues facing the county, voters do not even have an opportunity to hear an alternative vision.

by Mark Kelly — September 8, 2016 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 weeks ago, Paul Friedman wrote a piece on ARLnow claiming Democrats believe voting is a right and Republicans believe it is a privilege. The none-too-veiled suggestion was Republicans were somehow OK with limiting the rights of Democrats, or worse yet, on the basis of race.

Republicans believe voting is a right firmly rooted in the rule of law.

There are clear conditions you must meet to vote. You must be 18. You must be a citizen of our country. You cannot vote in two states in the same election. And in Virginia, you cannot vote if you committed a felony unless your voting rights have been affirmatively restored.

The Supreme Court found that Gov. Terry McAuliffe violated the Virginia Constitution when he issued the blanket order restoring voting rights to all felons who completed their sentence. Unfortunately, what Friedman appears to be arguing is it may just be OK for our governor to circumvent a provision in the Constitution because it achieves a desired outcome. Imagine Friedman’s outrage if a Republican governor were to do so in order to achieve a desired policy objective?

The bottom line is allowing a governor to unilaterally ignore the Virginia Constitution would be a dangerous precedent to set. It was rightly overturned by the court.

What was also missing from Friedman’s analysis was what happens to the rights of other voters when someone who should not be able to cast a vote in Virginia is allowed to. When just one person who is committing voter fraud — or is registered for any other invalid reason shows up the polls — it limits your rights by devaluing your vote.

Because voting is a right, it is meant to be protected. It should not be subject to the whims of an elected official. It should not be devalued by voter fraud.

What McAuliffe should have done was work with legislative leaders to find a process within the law to restore voting rights more easily. Many Republicans, including this one, support such a change, particularly when it comes to non-violent offenders.

by Mark Kelly — September 1, 2016 at 1:45 pm 0

Mark Kelly

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

This week, Governor McAuliffe’s office sent a memo to state agencies asking for proposals to trim 5% from their budgets to help close a $1.5 billion budget gap. The gap is roughly 1.5%, but leaders are working to avoid any cuts to education, so some programs will take bigger cuts than others.

This much more realistic approach comes after Republican General Assembly leaders rejected the governor’s assertion that Medicaid expansion would relieve the budget woes.

Medicaid expansion has actually made state budgets worse. In Ohio, Medicaid expansion cost $1.5 billion more than expected in the first 18 months. In Washington it was $2.3 billion more over two years. And in Kentucky, the state had to pay $1.8 billion more for 2014 and 2015 combined.

And, this is before the federal cost share is scheduled to be reduced in 2017.

You cannot blame a Governor for trying to pass his number one priority. But he should not continue to suggest a program that has failed to have positive outcomes in other states will miraculously do the opposite in Virginia.

The Governor should instead go about the business of getting the government out of the way of job creators in Virginia. Then economic growth can drive tax revenue.

But where do independent groups rank Virginia’s economic potential?

13th by ALEC. This study found twenty-nine states have a lower top marginal corporate income tax rate and twenty-five states have a lower property tax burden.

15th by Wallet Hub. The group found Virginia ranked 21st in “Innovation Potential.”

13th by CNBC. CNBC found Virginia in 36th place when it comes to the cost of doing business.

And, we continue to slide in the wrong direction.

The ongoing (and bi-partisan) effort focusing on economic development incentives is not doing the trick. Nor should we seek out higher, and debt-financed, federal government spending. Instead, our leaders must work to create a more favorable environment for the economy to thrive for all businesses.

by Mark Kelly — August 25, 2016 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.

 Arlington voters will almost certainly approve another bond for Metro this November. Often voters vote for it without a second thought.

The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) is fighting to reinstate the mechanic who was fired for failing to report that the ventilation fan at L’Enfant Plaza was not working properly and later allegedly lying about it to investigators.

One disturbing allegation made by the mechanic is that that supervisors pressured him to falsify his report after the smoke incident at the stop. One has to ask, did Metro look into these allegations, have the supervisors in question been admonished in any way, and what steps have been taken to ensure there is no temptation to engage in a cover up in the future?

Those questions aside, ATU is suing in federal court for wrongful termination and to have an arbitrator’s ruling upheld that would require Metro to reinstate the mechanic. Last week, Metro filed a counter suit to vacate the arbitrator’s ruling.

The union contract has long appeared to be a substantial impediment to Metro’s ability to move forward. Not only has the union locked in pay scales and overtime provisions, but also makes it extremely difficult to make necessary workforce adjustments as Metro faces ongoing financial strain. Or in this case, seemingly is making it next to impossible to fire employees for cause.

This legal proceeding will put the union contract to the test and may answer the question of what’s more important, a union contract or rider safety?

If a judge finds Metro can fire this mechanic, then the precedent will be set that Metro has the authority to hold union employees accountable and everyone will be put on notice. If the court rules for the union, Metro will be essentially powerless to truly make rider safety a priority.

If the court sides with the union, it may be time to revisit the issue of whether Metro should be dissolved so it can start over.

by Mark Kelly — August 18, 2016 at 1:45 pm 0

Mark Kelly

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 month, Peter Rousellot wrote a column calling for a phase out of the Neighborhood Conservation Program. I agree.

While the idea of neighborhood input is a long-standing and worthwhile tradition in Arlington, the implementation of this particular program has never made sense to me. As Peter notes, the county’s consideration of a project is totally dependent on the quality of civic association leadership. But even then it could wait up to a decade to receive funding — at a much higher cost than if the county had been able to address it in a more timely fashion.

“Progressive” is a buzzword that the party in power likes to throw around. But we should never confuse “progressive” with “willingness to make positive changes.” So while it might make eminent sense to rethink a 52 year-old county program and reconsider the way Arlington addresses neighborhood needs, you might not want to not hold your breath waiting for it to change.

Former Delegate Krupicka outlined a number of issues for job creators trying to do business with the county government. These issues have been well-known among the business community for years, but the county has been slow to address them.

Last year, a move by Board Members Garvey and Vihstadt to re-examine the close out spending process was defeated. The Board voted to continue spending tens of millions of dollars outside the more intense public scrutiny of the annual budget process.

Earlier this year the County Board created a panel to rethink the evaluation of the Comprehensive Plan. This Blue Ribbon advisory panel was not going to be charged with changing policy. It would merely have been formed to make recommendations on how better to allocate county resources. But those who benefit from the current way of doing things rose up in vocal opposition and the Board reversed course, refusing to seek the advice of an independent group.

If nothing else, the County Board should evaluate whether reform to the Neighborhood Conservation Program is needed. However, we should all be aware that such a move would meet significant resistance if not outright opposition.

by Mark Kelly — August 11, 2016 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.

Upon first hearing that some wanted to run gondolas across the Potomac between Rosslyn and Georgetown, my first thought was to dismiss it out-of-hand. But when the backers commissioned an initial $215,000 feasibility study back in April, the project landed on my radar.

The long running battle over the Arlington streetcar seems like a distant memory. One thing I do remember is that streetcar proponents always cited Portland as an example of why we should implement the system in Arlington.

Never mind the fact that Portland’s streetcar construction, expansion and ongoing operations consistently cost more than projected when presented to the taxpayers. Auditors have raised questions about costs, ridership numbers and transparency in general. And of course nearly every city has had similar problems with their streetcar lines: Washington, Atlanta, Charlotte, Virginia Beach, Milwaukee, etc.

The first public meeting was held on the proposed gondola project in July. The meeting brought out many concerns from the public. Is there a need? Who will pay? Where will the stations be located? What will the connections be to Metro? Is it much faster than walking over the bridge?

As I reviewed the public meeting presentation, I was not surprised to learn that one of two city gondola projects currently operating in the U.S. was in Portland.

What happened when Portland constructed a gondola? According to news reports, the Portland Aerial Tram construction cost of $57 million was nearly four times the initial estimate of $15 million. Operating costs are nearly twice the original projections. And the fee charged to paying customers ended up coming in closer to three times the initial estimate as well.

The problems do not seem to stop Portland residents from coming back for more taxes and spending. In May, Portland voters approved a 10 cent per gallon gas tax to put toward transportation improvements. The Portland gas tax is projected to raise $64 million over the next four years. Here’s a guess, the revenue projection won’t hit the mark. Savvy consumers, particularly the 48.4% of the voters who voted against it, will remember to fill up outside the city limits whenever possible to avoid the tax.

When Arlingtonians are pointed toward Portland as an example, they should keep the full Portland experience with these projects in mind. However, like residents in Portland, a majority of Arlingtonians seem relatively immune from the argument that our tax rate, or debt, is too high or that shiny object projects often fail to meet expectations.

by Mark Kelly — August 4, 2016 at 1:45 pm 0

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.

Mark Kelly

This week, Arlington announced its economic development successes for the past fiscal year. The tally: 53 “deals,” 2 million square feet of office space and 4,200 jobs that were “created or retained.” County Manager Schwartz says it’s his top priority.

The release does not indicate how many were created and how many were retained, something that would be good to know in measuring success. Just as when President Obama tried to count jobs he “created or saved,” we should be very leery of an announcement that contains such a qualifier. Maybe the county will provide a breakdown of created versus retained. But it is hard to argue the success of economic development if we are not adding to the job base.

Also, in evaluating jobs that were retained, it would be good to know an answer to the question of why were they going to leave? Were they just making a threat to get a better deal?

Moreover, if we are making special deals to make businesses stay, what about all the businesses who are staying here without getting a government deal? Where is their “piece of the action?”

At any level of government, there is a very real danger to the taxpayer when a handful of government officials get behind closed doors with a business and make a deal. Even with the best of intentions, there is the very real danger that a business will profit and the taxpayers will lose. Look at “deals” like the one Solyndra received from the federal government and what Governor McAuliffe’s GreenTech Automotive did to Mississippi (after they couldn’t get a good enough deal from Virginia).

This leads to the question of why do you have to make deals to lure employers to our community at all?

Sure, some would argue that every state and community serious about landing big employers are offering special deals. But as my dad used to say, just because everyone else is doing it, doesn’t make it right.

Why not make our policies so friendly to job creators that they want to come here? If our tax policies, zoning, permitting are reformed, and if we improve their experiences in even little things like submitting online applications and payments, then we can attract and retain businesses without cutting deals.

Creating a more business-friendly environment both attracts new business we want to locate here, but also benefits the ones who have been providing jobs in our community for years. That should be the goal.

by Mark Kelly — July 28, 2016 at 3:55 pm 0

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.

Mark Kelly

Last fall, I wrote about the possibility of another Tax Increment Financing District in Arlington. This time for the redevelopment of the Ballston Mall.

This is what I wrote then:

“The argument for TIFs is that the development being paid for by the TIFs will increase revenue to the County above what we would have otherwise received. Therefore, despite setting aside a portion of that revenue to subsidize development, it is still a net benefit to the taxpayer.

However, if a private developer cannot secure financing for a project in one of the most attractive real estate markets in the country, why should taxpayers agree to make up the difference?”

My questions about TIFs then are my questions today. Should Arlingtonians continue subsidizing development with debt? And is it worth setting aside future tax revenue to the detriment of other county needs?

Last week, the County Board took a slightly different approach. For the first time, they are forming a Community Development Authority (CDA). The CDA could receive up to $46 million from bonds. The County is also kicking in another $9 million for transportation needs.

The bonds would still be financed by tax increment financing. This financing sets aside a portion of future tax revenue to finance the bonds. None of those funds will be available for schools or other county-wide obligations.

While a CDA sounds like a separate entity, the board members will be made up solely of County Board members, according to the county press release. If that’s the case, why set up a separate entity at all?

Also in the county press release was this statement, “the bonds issued are not on the County’s balance sheet and thus do not affect the County’s debt capacity or debt rating.”

Who pays if the tax increment funds do not meet the debt service requirements? Best guess is the Arlington taxpayers would still end up on the hook. The honest way to do the accounting is to recognize the bond for what it is, an obligation Arlington must pay.

Whether you call it a CDA or TIF, it is little more than a new way to borrow money.

by Mark Kelly — July 21, 2016 at 1:45 pm 0

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.

Mark Kelly

The Virginia Supreme Court will now make a decision on Governor McAuliffe’s order to restore voting rights to over 200,000 felons who served their time.

Previous governors have agreed with legal advice that the right to restore rights was not a blanket one through the clemency powers. Instead, they were supposed to set up a review of each case.

Both Governors Kaine and McDonnell worked to make that review easier. And McAuliffe’s predecessors were applauded from across the political spectrum for doing so.

McAuliffe has fought to keep the list secret, and multiple mistakes have been uncovered — leading to ever-growing criticism.

The case should ultimately rest on one important question:  Did Governor McAuliffe violate the Virginia Constitution with his order? The Court is expected to decide in time for the general election in November.

But the Solicitor General asked that the case be thrown out because the legislators could not prove they were harmed by the Governor’s order. He said allowing the case to go forward could amount to a situation where “any voter is going to be able to challenge virtually any election law.” And there was a good deal of discussion on this question during the arguments.

The Supreme Court did agree to hear this case in an expedited fashion. That seems to indicate the justices are concerned there could in fact be harm if the General Election is allowed to proceed under the order.

However, high courts often make decisions based on procedural questions like this rather than creating a precedent on the merits. If the Supreme Court rules in favor of McAuliffe, they will almost certainly hang their hat, or robes, on this question.

The harm of the order does appear to be to anyone who is a valid voter in Virginia, including our elected officials. If the Governor’s order resulted in individuals having their voting rights restored in error and those individuals register and vote, it dilutes the votes of everyone else. Your vote and my vote would not have as much strength as they should have in the electoral process because of the actions of the government.

Our default position should be that any time the impact of an election law weakens our voting rights, a voter should be able to challenge it. The Solicitor General should stand ready to defend our election laws. And we can let the courts decide.



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