Column: Devolution - A Dirty Word?

Column: Devolution - A Dirty Word?

It must be if a mere mention of it would send the majority of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors headed to the General Assembly session with their hair afire - at taxpayer's expense. To devolve: the act of transferring responsibilities from one entity to another. In the context of state vs. local government, the state is reassigning responsibilities to the local government. The Commonwealth of Virginia operates under the Dillon Rule (All authority resides in the General Assembly except those actions the GA has specifically assigned to local governments). Thus, one may understand the panic of local elected officials who face the prospect of providing for whatever responsibilities the state assigns local government.

Actually, more responsibility and authority residing at the local level should be a good thing. Our Founding Fathers recognized the source of government and wrote the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution clearly specifying the powers of government. Why then should our local Board of Supervisors be so alarmed? The answer is taxes.

If the state government devolves responsibility to local government, then one would expect the taxes collected for that purpose should also come back to the local government. Oops? For most of the post-WWII years, Virginia has been governed by those believing in a redistribution of wealth. Some of it sound and making sense: funds to allow the poorer sections of the state to develop industry and roads (RT 58?) to have the economic base with which to fund their own services. We have a court order redistributing funds regarding K-12 education. Thus, through a complicated formula, the wealthy Northern Virginia tax base supports the funding of elementary education in the poorer sections of Virginia. We Restonians are firmly convinced that we only get back some $.18 to $.23 cents on every dollar we send to Richmond.

No wonder the hair is afire. We now have a situation where the Supervisors and School Board are in complete control over our own K-12 education. The state can no longer mandate any standards unless it can demonstrate it is justified by some provision that contributes to the support of services. Ever hear of unfunded mandates? Can we do away with the State Board of Education? The SOLs? The insatiable thirst for more education dollars now becomes a very local consideration.

The question remains: How will the Northern Virginia delegation to the General Assembly, after years of allowing a redistributing our wealth (or being powerless to stop it) now engineer the return of those dollars we have been sending downstate? We have seen, time and again the lack of local political pull to bring more of those dollars home. What goes around, comes around.