How Much Have We Lost?

Friday, January 29, 2010

Fighting for Education Funding

The following appeared in the Mount Vernon Gazette and Mount Vernon Voice on January 28, 2010.

Since travelling to Richmond, I have been focused on getting Mount Vernon and Lee residents our fair share of resources from the state. Last week, I discussed my transportation initiatives including a U.S. 1 Transportation District and modernizing the Commonwealth Transportation Board by using current population instead of Virginia’s 1932 population.

Most people and businesses move here for our quality schools. Fairfax County delivers education with some of the lowest administrative costs in the Washington D.C. area. School officials are predicting a $176,000,000 shortfall resulting in a series of historically unprecedented service "cuts" or what are really decisions to shift public responsibilities to Mount Vernon’s families.

The State provides only 19 percent of our school budget because of Fairfax County’s relatively strong economic showing under the state’s Local Composite Index or "LCI" which weights our relative real property value, per capita income, and student population against the rest of the Commonwealth. Additionally, the LCI is "rebenchmarked" every year for changed economic conditions.

Governor Kaine proposed to delay rebenchmarking by one year to save $23 million. However, this costs Fairfax County $63 million and I oppose it. This proposal is an unprecedented breach of a long-term understanding that I wrote about two weeks ago. I have co-sponsored a budget amendment with Del. Dave Albo (R – Lorton) to restore this funding. I will fight for this as hard as I can.

I have also cosponsored legislation with Del. Vivian Watts (D – Annandale) to mandate a new formula that is fairer to Fairfax County. This also highlights Fairfax County’s unequal taxing authority compared with cities or our neighboring jurisdictions. The City of Alexandria can tax non-residents with an events admission tax, a rental tax, a hotel tax, and a meals tax – Fairfax cannot. Because the City of Alexandria has more legal options, it only relies on residential real estate taxes for 31.5 percent of its revenue while Fairfax County relies on residential real estate taxes for 47.8 percent.

Each year, Fairfax County asks the state for equal taxing authority to more evenly spread its revenue burdens and take pressure off Fairfax County homeowners. Therefore, I introduced legislation to add Fairfax County to the other five counties (including Arlington) that can adopt a meals tax by a unanimous vote of the Board of Supervisors. Restaurant meals are optional, a luxury, and are also paid by people who live outside Fairfax County – such as the one million annual visitors to Mount Vernon. This would generate $80 million per year and cover more than half the schools shortfall. A House Finance Subcommittee voted this bill down 6-2 this week, but I appreciate the support of Del. David Englin (D – Alexandria) who argued for us and gave his vote.

Next week’s column, will focus on some of my government efficiency initiatives. Good government depends on your involvement and you can contact me, comment on legislation, or request a meeting on my Web site – http://www.scottsurovell.org/ or read more of my views on my blog The Dixie Pig at ScottSurovell.Blogspot.com.

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