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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.

by Mark Kelly — March 30, 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.

Imagine you are building a new house. You live in Arlington, so you have a budget of $1 million. Your builder comes back to you and says for $1 million, you may have to cut a few things off your wish list.

Instead of marble tile in your bathrooms, you will have to go with another natural stone or maybe even ceramic. They are going to have to downgrade your hardwood floors and kitchen appliances slightly. And, you may only be able to finish half of the basement, so your media room may have to be a little bit smaller.

You may be disappointed you cannot get a little more for your money, but you take heart in the fact you still will have a brand new $1 million house to live in.

When the County Manager or County Board says they are making “difficult choices” in the budget, they are a lot like the person who can only get 98 percent of what they want in a new house.

To gain a dollars and cents perspective, let’s take a look back over the past three years.

Arlington’s total spending for FY 2015 was $1.479 billion.

The FY 2016 adopted budget was $1.486 billion, but the county actually spent $1.529 billion. The $41 million difference, or 2.7 percent spending increase, was accounted for in the budget closeout process.

For FY 2018, the County Manager proposed $1.604 billion. It looks like an increase of $125 million in just three years. However, the closeout process that would take place in November 2018 will move that number up by at least $25 million, not including the budget savings that will be available to spend. But the County Board essentially pretends every March that millions in excess revenue will not be available to spend in the closeout process every November, so this is nothing new.

As predicted, Arlingtonians flocked to the public hearing on Tuesday to oppose the County Manager’s “proposed cuts.” The County Board will now be able to say with a straight face, they heard from the community that the cuts — that were never going to happen anyway — are a non-starter.

Reining in the budget is just too difficult to do they will say. Property taxes must, therefore, must go up by the full 5 percent.

The cycle that began when the Board spent the FY 2016 closeout dollars last November will soon be complete.

by Mark Kelly — March 23, 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.

Next week the County Board will open its microphones to any Arlingtonian who wishes to discuss items in the budget or the advertised tax rate. If this year holds to form, hundreds of Arlingtonians will show up to advocate for higher spending and adopting the highest tax rate. Few will speak to lowering taxes.

It would be nice if the thousands of Arlingtonians who are tired of the Board’s tax and spend record would pack the room next Thursday and make the case to hold the tax rate level, if not lower it. But past experience has taught us all that the Board will listen politely, and then do what they were going to do anyway.

The Board formally approved at least $10 million in taxpayer subsidies to lure Nestlé to Arlington — $4 million directly from our local budget. According to county staff, Arlington had to out-bid another state in order to land the company.

The staff report claims a net tax benefit to Arlington of $14.2 million over the next 10 years, though they did not include $2 million in other infrastructure improvements in this calculation. Taxpayers will likely forget by then to ask for a report of the actual tax benefit from this deal.

In the meantime, hopefully the Board will set aside some of its annual budget to provide tax relief to businesses that are already in existence by reducing the burden of the Business License Tax.

Arlington Democrats have mysteriously pushed for satellite absentee ballot locations for this fall’s elections. One can only assume local committee chairman Kip Malinosky is operating under the assumption the 2017 governor’s race is going to be close, and they are hoping to squeeze as many votes as possible out of Arlington for the Democrat nominee.

According to the Electoral Board, the request would cause a great deal of strain on both the elections staff and their budget — both of which were set up to meet the needs normal gubernatorial year elections. The Courthouse Plaza office accommodated 5,000 in-person absentee voters in 2013 — more than 15,000 fewer than the preceding year’s presidential election — with very few voters experiencing a wait of more than 10-15 minutes. They anticipate a similar number of in-person voters again this year.

After the Democratic-majority Electoral Board rejected the request, Malinosky has apparently appealed directly to the County Board. It will be interesting to see if the Board takes any action on this matter.

by Mark Kelly — March 16, 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.

At the last County Board meeting, John Vihstadt proposed that the County Manager outline possible budget cuts to avoid the maximum advertised tax increase. This “radical” idea was meant to ensure the average homeowner’s tax increase was capped at 4 percent instead of the maximum advertised 5 percent (when you combine assessment increases with the proposed tax rate increase).

In response, County Manager Mark Schwartz produced proposed $11.1 million in possible budget cuts this week.

Included in Mr. Schwartz’s statement about the cuts was an emphasis on maintaining the proposed increase in support for Metro. And, Schwartz warned Metro could receive even more.

This comes in the face of a report this week that Metro’s management decisions are once again under fire, this time for its failures regarding the SafeTrack project. According to The Washington Post report, “With better planning, GAO officials said, Metro could have identified opportunities to conduct work more efficiently, reduce disruptions for riders and local jurisdictions, or saved money.”

At some point, the people paying the bills for Metro need to stand up and call for a fundamental reorganization of the system. Arlington could lead the way.

Back to the proposed County Manager’s optional cuts. Many were for newly created positions – almost certainly selected to sound “bad.” No new school nurse, no new sheriff’s deputies, no new ethics attorney and even an existing mental health supervisor would be eliminated, to name a few.

The proposed cuts could also ding road paving, new street lights and even some library hours.

Finally, the proposal calls for the school budget to be reduced by a little over $5 million.

The County Manager’s “cuts” are designed to make taxpayers believe there are few desirable options when it comes to trimming the budget. This of course is not true as has been outlined in this space multiple times. Unfortunately, while Mr. Vihstadt was trying to help taxpayers by giving the County Board options, this exercise may have simply bolstered the Board’s move to raise the tax rate.

As the County continues to move through the budget process, Arlingtonians should keep this Arlington Magazine article on the difficulties homeowners face when dealing with zoning regulations in mind. While Arlington seems to be getting a little better with resolving permitting issues, including improvements to older homes, it points out how the County has not always made basic government services enough of a priority.

by Mark Kelly — March 9, 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.

At the end of February the Arlington County Board voted 3-2 to advertise a 2-cent tax rate increase. The two members who voted no did so because they wanted to advertise a higher rate.

As the County Board discussed advertising the increased rate, Chairman Jay Fisette called the County Manager’s budget the “best professional recommendation.” In reality, Arlington County rigs the budget game to ensure they can spend not only what they propose in the annual budget, but the closeout slush fund created by chronic underestimation of revenue.

In FY 2016, Arlington took $29 million more in revenue than it had projected in its fiscal year budget. The County also did not spend $6.4 million it had budgeted. That’s $35.4 million in tax revenue over and above the needs of the budget. And year after year, the County Manager and County Board spend it during the closeout process right before going to the public and saying they have budget shortfalls for the next year.

To put the closeout funds in perspective, if left unspent it would take no residential property tax increase to meet the revenue needed for the next county budget.

Taxpayers would appreciate a one-year pause on their escalating property taxes. Under the County Manager’s latest budget proposal, taxes on the average single family homeowner would increase by around 5 percent for 2017 when you account for higher assessments and a two cent tax rate increase. The tax burden is retroactive to January 1 of this year.

Annual spending over the last 15 years or so has regularly outpaced inflation plus population growth — a measure which should ensure more than adequate continuation of county services. The annual revenue spending is supplemented by the unlimited willingness of voters to approve bonds to take on about $1 billion in debt.

Many Arlingtonians express a willingness to pay even more, which should not be a surprise in a county that has elected exactly one non-Democrat to the County Board in the last 17 years. At some point however, a majority of the public may balk.

Wages for the third quarter of 2016 rose by 3.9 percent in Arlington. So not only do taxes continue to outpace population growth and inflation, they are growing faster than wages. It means most of us will probably be paying more and taking home less.

County Board member John Vihstadt rightly asked the County Manager for budget options at a lower tax level. But taxpayers should be dubious that the Board will approve any tax increase lower than the maximum two cents.

by Mark Kelly — March 2, 2017 at 3:30 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.

In 2009, the Arlington County Board filed a lawsuit to stop the Kaine Administration’s efforts to bring 395 HOT lanes through the county. This surprised state officials as for some time, County leaders had offered support for the idea.

The suit cost county taxpayers around $2 million in legal fees. It also embarrassingly named state employees, sued as individuals not in their official capacities, as parties to the case.

County leaders claimed victory when the lawsuit ultimately resulted in Virginia dropping the plan to create the lanes in the original build out of the tolled lanes in 2011.

Fast forward nearly six years to this week when it was announced that those lanes would now open in the fall of 2019. The new plan creates no interchanges that would allow Arlingtonians to have better access to the lanes. This was a concession to the biggest complaints about the plan which came from individuals in the Shirlington area who worried that a good deal of extra traffic would exit there under the initial proposal.

Arlingtonians should be concerned about traffic coming onto surface streets as the County continues to take travel lanes away and narrow critical corridors which unnecessarily causes increased traffic congestion.

Speaking of moving people through Arlington, this past week Arlington County Manager Mark Schwartz proposed a budget that would result in a tax increase of approximately 5 percent for single family homeowners 2017.

Schwartz said 1 percent of the increase would be dedicated to increasing Arlington’s share of ongoing funding for Metro. Under the proposal, Arlington taxpayers would add a $6 million net contribution to WMATA’s ongoing operations.

In addition to the ongoing contributions to Metro, the County intends to issue $22 million in new bonds for the failing system. The debt service on these bonds would cost taxpayers $1.5 million in the next fiscal year.

The bonding authority is left over from 2014, so it would not be a question for voters this year. It should voters ask more questions about just how badly the County needs bonds the Board asks you to vote on in the future.

Metro may need extra funding to get back on its feet, and there is no question Arlingtonians are willing to do their share. Until the agency makes transformational reforms, including getting out from under the thumb of the Amalgamated Transit Union, however, Arlington should be skeptical of agreeing to new financial contributions.

by Mark Kelly — February 23, 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.

This week, 20-year County Board veteran Jay Fisette announced he would not seek re-election.

Just a little more than five years ago, the Board was made up of Fisette, Chris Zimmerman, Walter Tejada, Mary Hynes and Barbara Favola. Between School Board and County Board service, they had each been elected multiple times over. After November it is likely that four of the five members of the Board will be in their first full term serving the County in any elected capacity. And this new perspective is certainly a good thing.

While Fisette had kept his intentions under wraps, signs were pointing toward this decision. Fisette helped engineer a closed nominating process for Democrats that would ensure maximum power for the party regulars in choosing a nominee to succeed him. Fisette also took the lead to stop spending on the gondola project — taking away an issue from a Republican or Independent challenger.

As someone who has run for local office and who has worked for elected officials, I have nothing but the utmost respect for anyone who is willing to run for and serve in these positions. It is hard work, requires personal sacrifice and often results in intense criticism from those who disagree with you.

However, an Independent or Republican should not shy away from making a run at this open seat just because it’s hard. I can tell you that when you knock on all but the most partisan doors in Arlington, you will be greeted by people who are willing to listen. You will not be dismissed out of hand because you are not a card carrying Democrat. The people of Arlington are concerned about the direction of their community and are willing to listen to someone who shares that concern.

If you want to run, you should be prepared to make a case for how the County should approach housing, transportation, and working with the School Board on education issues. But here are two areas you could focus on to usher in a new era where we put an end to business as usual:

Spend time making Arlington a more business friendly community for everyone, not just looking for opportunities to provide taxpayer funded giveaways to new businesses that move here. That includes improving permitting, zoning and other processes that even partisan Democrats have complained about. And it means embracing the idea of doing away with the time sucking tangible personal property tax on businesses as well as the regressive business privilege tax — the name alone is troublesome let alone the gross receipts method of calculating it.

Reform the budget process which is built to add spending and increase the tax burden each year as well as create a year-end slush fund known as the closeout process. The budget should also focus more on core services and stop borrowing money for items that should be budgeted for each year. It should require increased transparency when it comes to spending — in particular, we should know more about how contracting decisions are made.

And a bonus item that might lead into any discussion of ending business as usual, is reinstating the ability of individuals to require public comment and debate on County Board agenda items. This would reestablish a longstanding check on their actions.

by Mark Kelly — February 16, 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.

By now, you have probably heard about the controversy over signs at Yorktown High School. There is little doubt the signs were intended to make a political statement about issues surrounding the Trump Administration, albeit in an clever way.

You may support the posting of the signs as statements our community supports or you may oppose them as political propaganda. For the purposes of furthering the discussion, what if a teacher posted a sign in his or her classroom at Yorktown that said the following, complete with red, white and blue color scheme?

Patriots Know:

We have the right to pray and protest.

Government should enforce the laws.

Science continually discovers new theories.

You have the right to defend yourself.

Group think is dangerous.

We are YORKTOWN

Would that sign make it past lunch without being removed by the school administration? Maybe. It certainly would be interesting to hear the thoughts of the principal, superintendent and school board responding to complaints about it.

If there is a teacher who wants to do a thought experiment with their students, a sign like this one might spur a good discussion or make for a good writing assignment. If you do, be sure to let the media know how it goes.

In other news this week, the County Board said no to funding the Rosslyn-Georgetown gondola, at least for now. Fiscal watchdogs let out a big sigh of relief that the county would not chase another shiny object and instead focus on other transportation priorities.

This most certainly reflects at least a slight change in philosophy from the previous Board which threw good money after bad trying to build the Columbia Pike streetcar. Seems that electing four new Board Members in the past five years has given rise to more caution when it comes to this type of project.

Now if we could only get them to pay for all ongoing maintenance needs in the regular budget rather than borrowing more money to do it, we would really be getting somewhere.

by Mark Kelly — February 9, 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.

Arlington schools have called in an outside consultant to evaluate their enrollment projections. No matter who makes them, projections outside of the next one to two years are extremely difficult to make. Nowhere was this more evident than Washington-Lee High School which was built too small because of bad projections in the other direction.

The Arlington School Board should continue to proceed with caution in the efforts to create more seats for more students.

School Board members are also apparently contemplating the option of refusing federal funds to avoid federal education mandates from new Secretary DeVos. The story is a reminder of just how small a percentage of local school budgets come from the federal government despite producing so many of the mandates — roughly 2% in Arlington, but more in other places.

Based on DeVos’ testimony, it seems her goal is to return even more power to local school districts, resulting in fewer federal mandates, not more. Only time will tell.

Political parties in Virginia have the right to select nominees as they see fit. Over the years Virginia Democrats have often piled on the criticism of Republicans for selecting nominees in a closed process using a so-called “loyalty oath.”

So what did Arlington Democrats do this past week? They opted to hold a closed Democrat caucus with a loyalty oath to determine their County Board nominee. In order to vote, you will be required to pledge to support Democrat nominees in the fall.

Yes, Arlington Democrats, who often try to draw Independents to their cause by ridiculing Republicans for closing their nominating process, are now doing the same thing. I guess you can file this turn of events alongside their newfound discovery of the separation of powers and 10th Amendment to the Constitution.

Speaking of finding the 10th Amendment, Attorney General Mark Herring this week was in the news defending the lawsuits against the Trump Administration’s temporary travel ban. Regardless of your view of the policies surrounding the ban, the plain language of federal law authorizing the President to implement such a ban is clear. In fact, President Obama implemented a similar ban under the law without so much as a peep from Herring. But Herring said he opposes the law based on states’ rights now.

Herring’s record is full of partisanship just like this. Voters should remember this when he promises to uphold the law on the campaign trail this year.

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