(Editor’s Note: Fairfax County is the largest county in our state. This article points to some disturbing issues which could impact not only that county but the state. Fairfax County is currently the anchor of the Northern Virginia’s economy. This is the second part of this article. The first ran on September 4, 2014 and can be found here.)
The Board of Supervisors remedy
The Board of Supervisors (BOS) is trying to avert calamity by increasing its revenue: increasing fees from and taxes on households. The BOS seems intent on increasing the population density of the county so that the number of taxpayers is increased. In fact, the pension fund depends on a population growth rate of approximately 3% per year, with the attendant increase in county employees — it is a Ponzi-scheme pension, with solvency relying on an ever increasing number of county employees. The county is almost fully developed, but every re-zoning request calls for higher density – and the county usually grants the request. The number of apartments is increasing faster than the number of single-family attached units (townhouses), while the number of single-family detached units is decreasing. The number of rentals is increasing faster than the number of owner-occupied dwellings. The county is becoming an apartment-rental society. The BOS has no plan to limit the density, although it is the densest of all counties that do not include a major city.
The BOS boasts about the county’s programs, but is out of touch with reality. It ignores the data. It continues to tout the public-school system, despite the fact that half of its graduates need remedial education when they arrive at college. It tells the citizens that more commercial development will reduce taxes, despite the fact that residential taxes have been increased to offset business setbacks and despite the fact that past history shows that residential taxes increased even during times of business prosperity. It caters to the developers, allowing commercial projects to proceed despite the fact that the projects will increase congestion. It allows the county budget to increase at a rate that far exceeds the rate of inflation plus population growth. Some businesses discover these deficiencies and move out. Others, wanting to be near the Federal government, do not discover these deficiencies and move in.
Would changing the government structure be a remedy?
The County government – the ten Supervisors and twelve School Board members are the only elected governing officials – has become increasingly dominated by the Democrat Party, liberals, or progressives, however as you might prefer to call them. There is no credible opposition to check ideological excess. Some examples: (1) Child Protection Services arrogantly intrudes into family life. (2) Counselors and human-services employees seek ever greater numbers of needy children. (3) Diversity training disregards religious beliefs, requiring many religious people to support what is to them immoral activity. (4) The nice-sounding programs distract from the cronyism that teams the Supervisors with the developers and the Supervisors with the county employees – against most taxpayers.
Why this adversarial relationship between the exploiting and the exploited? Perhaps we could use some more “democracy” in Fairfax County. Each Supervisor represents 40,000 households – surely not a very “local” government. Over a four-year election cycle, a supervisor would need to visit almost 200 homes per week just to contact his constituents once. The county-manager government system shields many government agencies from being accountable to those governed. This shield was one of the reasons that the RSU idea, for example, was generated and promoted by a small group of government employees. These employees remain in high-level government positions, ready to re-introduce the legislation when the public guard is down.
Perhaps the county can be divided into nine counties, one for each supervisory district. If the county were divided into nine counties, each having ten BOS members, only 20 visits per week would be needed. Because BOS members are paid little, the increase in cost would be small. In fact, smaller counties spend less per capita than do larger counties, so a net saving might occur.
Will the electorate change the course of the County?
Perhaps the county’s many retired government workers, with pensions nearly equal to their maximum annual salary, increasing annually to account for the increasing cost of living, can absorb the higher taxes. Public advocacy groups are frequently dominated by these retired government workers – people who have never had to work in the private sector. They tend to think that an activist government can solve all problems. They seem to be content with providing the welfare funds and the government-employee compensation to manage the welfare.
If the government pensioners rebel and leave the county along with the tax-paying, lower-wage households and if welfare households arrive, the wealthy will be taxed more and more. Gradually, those leaving will be those with ever higher salaries, until the financial burden is more than even the wealthiest will withstand.
Fortunately for those on welfare, Fairfax County has many wealthy people: Federal legislators and their staffs, many other government workers, lobbyists and lawyers, executives of government-contractor corporations, and land developers. Many of Fairfax County’s most affluent residents, at least so far, tend to shrug off high taxes, perhaps, as Victor Davis Hanson suggests, viewing income redistribution through taxation as a sort of psychological penance for their wealth. These wealthy residents can afford the private schools that are sprouting up in reaction to the valueless, lock-step public-school education. Some seem to care far more about the environment and social issues such as same-sex marriage and other similar causes than about the mundane concerns appropriate to local government, such as limiting taxes and creating middle-class jobs. They form a cash-laden constituency with enormous influence in county governance. Secure with the wealthy support, the government courts the low-income minorities with de facto government amnesties, provisions of the Dream Act, higher taxes on businesses and the middle and upper classes, expanded government, and more social services. The aspiring, work-oriented middle class winds up politically orphaned and without a voice in government – until it leaves the county.
Fairfax County is tending toward the fate of California, where, according to Victor Davis Hanson, the
now-dysfunctional California legislature grew out of a destructive political alliance between the state’s poor interior and its rich coastal corridor, while the once-robust middle class has either fled or declined into irrelevance. The odd power-coupling will end only when the wealthy begin to suffer the consequences of their progressive utopianism. In other words, Victor Davis Hanson adds, hope lies in a middle-class resurgence. He did not describe the resurgence. It seems that the middle class must become more politically active, running for office, winning the political power, resetting the social agenda, rejecting the pressures of the rich-poor alliance, and keeping taxes in line with the middle-class values and income.