Editorial: Budget Season Trainwreck?

Editorial: Budget Season Trainwreck?

County looks at “lines of business,” schools call for full funding.

Karen Garza didn’t move to Fairfax County from Texas to preside over the decline of Fairfax County Public Schools.

For this year’s budget, the superintendent refused to cut to fit as the school system has the last two years, and called for a fully funded budget. It’s true that Fairfax County schools have more students who are poor and/or are still learning English and those students cost more to educate. It’s true that Fairfax County teachers make less than teachers in other bordering jurisdictions. It’s true that Fairfax County spends less per student by a significant amount than other bordering jurisdictions, even accounting for size.

It’s also true that Fairfax County, which provides most of the school funding, already transfers 52 percent and more of its annual budget to the schools. It’s true that the county has limited revenue sources, with almost all revenue coming from property taxes. Residential property tax revenues are not growing much. Fairfax County’s commercial tax base is flat or contracting with historically high vacancy rates. This is in part due to reduced spending by the federal government, but it’s also about new and likely lasting trends in the way companies use office space.

The county is facing a shortfall, not just for education, but for other important things like transportation, social services, recreation and the environment.

The Board of Supervisors and heads of county departments are about to engage in an intensive effort to review every area of county spending, with supervisors devoting two full days a week for the foreseeable future on “lines of business” review in the budget committee. What results from this process could set the stage for some reforms and some savings.

But none of those invested in Fairfax County, not the elected officials, not the teachers, not the county employees, especially not the residents, want to preside over the decline of quality of life in one of the wealthiest counties in the universe.

What’s really needed is for the county to have access to a variety of revenue sources. It’s excruciating to raise property taxes across the board, knowing that some people will be hard hit since there is no relation to ability to pay. But that is almost the only option the county has.

This brings us to tax reform and the General Assembly. It’s pie in the sky, but localities in Virginia should have direct access to a portion of the income tax collected by the state. Northern Virginia pays the vast majority of the income taxes paid to the Commonwealth, but every penny set gets funnelled through a formula that by definition sends less money back.

Income is a measure of economic viability.

There are other options, which we will detail in the future.

To find the names of your current representatives in the Virginia House and Senate, visit http://whosmy.virginiageneralassembly.gov/ and enter your address.