Saturday, December 17, 2016

Sunset to Virginia's Annexation Moratorium in Sight

There has not been much news in Virginia about annexation in a while, but it may come roaring back in the next couple years. 

For example, some of the complaining I've heard from members of Mt. Vernon and Lee Districts over the years about the Route 1 Corridor reminded me that history often repeats itself.

Washington Evening Star Article About Grumpy
22308 Zip Code Residents
Someone recently gave me a Washington Evening Star article from 1965 which I thought was interesting.  Community residents basically felt that Fairfax County was not investing sufficient tax dollars in the Lee-Mt. Vernon part of Fairfax County and wanted to explore joining the City of Alexandria.

Before 1971, there were dozens of cities created in Virginia and annexations.  Due to a series of partial moratoria, studies and finally a "temporary" ban on annexations in 1987, you haven't read much about these lately. 

For example, the City of Manassas was created in 1975.  At the time, the thinking was that Manassas had a large cluster of commercial property and that concentrating commercial and higher density property tax revenues could allow those residents to skim higher generally property tax revenues and focus them on their city instead of subsidizing the rest of the city.

In other areas, annexations had racial overtones with councils annexation portions of communities to "adjust" voting populations to marginalize minority populations (Richmond, Petersburg).  Other cities were created to avoid annexation by neighboring cities (Salem, Suffolk, Chesapeake, & Virginia Beach).

Recently, some cities have begun to discuss reversions - to town status - due to limited tax bases.  A few years ago, the City of Bedford reverted to a town. 

In 1987, Virginia enacted a moratorium on annexations.  Some commentators think this has had numerous consequences as cities with limited tax bases can no longer threaten annexation to leverage infrastructure improvements.  For example, it has supposedly increased regional cooperation although the stagnation at Metro due a lack of funding makes you wonder whether our local governments are capable of collaborating. 

Map Summarizing Harrisonburg Annexations
(Courtesy of City of Harrisonburg)
This article has an excellent summary of the situation.

Apparently, the entire purpose of the moratorium was to buy time to sort out Virginia's ancient and outdated City-County distinctions.  We have made pretty much zero progress on that score and most leaders with knowledge and experience on these issues have moved on. 

The last time the moratorium required extension in 2009, Governor Tim Kaine twice vetoed extensions before the moratorium was extended.

The idea that counties are "rural" and require less taxing authority than cities is nonsensical at this point.  However, local governments merely complaining, but taking absolutely no leadership on any of these issues, it is hard to see a resolution to this any time soon.  Interestingly, January, 2012 article above mentions that it might take a city bankruptcy to force the issue - we might have that opportunity soon. 

Monday, December 5, 2016

Weekly Column: U.S. Supreme Court Should Overturn Partisan Redistricting

The following is my column that will appear in the Mt. Vernon Gazette, Springfield Gazette, The Mt. Vernon Voice, and the Potomac and Stafford Locals in the week of December 9, 2016.
U.S. Supreme Court Should Overturn Partisan Redistricting
Virginia is represented by Democrats in all five statewide offices, has voted for a Democratic president three times, yet the Virginia House of Delegates has 66 Republicans and 34 Democrats.   

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on the legality and constitutionality of the last redistricting of Virginia House of Delegates’ districts.  The court’s decision could be monumental for all Virginia voters.

If I could fix one thing to make our government work better at every level, I would reform redistricting.  Partisan redistricting abuse has been around since the beginning of American democracy.  The term “gerrymander” originates from an 1812 attempt to draw districts favoring Massachusetts Governor Eldridge Gerry.  To be clear, both parties do it, but in the last two decades, gerrymandering has become especially powerful for a few reasons.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

GMU'S Point of View on Mason Neck

Point of View Looking Up From the River
Last month, I was invited to a community reception at the newly opened Point of View Complex managed by the George Mason Center for Conflict Analysis and Resolution on Mason Neck.  It is a beautiful complex.

As a practicing litigator, I can testify to the growth in methods of alternate dispute resolution.  The practice of mediation and conflict avoidance is really becoming a science and universities across the world are investing significant resources in teaching students alternative methods to resolve conflicts.