reprinted with permission from the Northern Virginia Journal
September 30, 2003
Northern Virginia Journal
Fairfax officials oppose tax cap
Journal staff writer
Fairfax County supervisors on Monday went on record opposing a real estate tax cap that is the key ingredient to the campaign platforms of several Republicans vying to join or replace them.
By an 8-2 vote, the board formally slammed as a financial detriment an idea to limit real estate tax increases to 5 percent a year or the rate of population growth plus inflation, whichever is higher.
"It's an economic issue for the county," said Supervisor Elaine McConnell, R-Springfield, chairwoman of the board's Economic Advisory Committee. "It's bigger than a campaign."
The cap is supported by four Republicans seeking board seats: Mychele Brickner, in the race for at-large chairman; Jim Hyland, in the Providence District; Doug Bushee, in the Hunter Mill District; and Buzz Hawley, in the Mason District.
Taxes are up, said Hawley, who is running against Supervisor Penelope A. Gross, D-Mason. Spending is up and delivery of services is down. The voters are clear on the issues without supervisors steering them in a certain direction five weeks before the election, he said.
"Frankly it's a political issue at this point for them to take a vote on it," Hawley said. "It doesn't make any sense."
Board members said they based their decision on data requested in June by the 27-member committee. Susan Datta, director of the county's Department of Management and Budget, told the group Sept. 24 that the cap could constrain the ability to identify dollars to support county services, limit revenues, damage the county's AAA bond rating, impair the capacity to issue bonds and restrict the board's ability to meet critical needs.
If imposed, the tax increase limitation would reduce county revenues by a projected $45 million, according to Datta's assessment.
A $45 million hit spread proportionally amongst county departments would cost the schools $21 million, public safety $5 million, human services $4 million and other agencies a total of $15 million.
Supervisors Stuart Mendelsohn, R-Dranesville, and Michael Frey, R-Sully, said Datta's study and the board's decision were outrageous, ill-timed and blatant political maneuvers. Datta's office should not have been used to investigate the impacts of a campaign proposal, nor should the board have taken a position on such an issue, they said.
"It was already known in June that one of the big political issues of the season would be this," Frey said. "This board is politicizing county staff and the EAC is politicizing county staff."
Mendelsohn and Frey's opposition drew a fierce response from Supervisor Gerald E. Connolly, the Democratic candidate for board chairman. Monday's vote was no different, he said, than the board's past opposition to state-supported tax caps, its stated positions on anticipated legislative actions or its endorsement of the transportation sales tax referendum that Northern Virginians defeated in November 2002.
"We have two Know-Nothings on the board who feel it is OK to play politics, but it's not OK to get information into the hands of the business community," Connolly said of Mendelsohn and Frey.