December 2, 2011

The Virginia General Assembly may soon consider a scheme that could cause a significant property tax increase for residents and businesses of Northern Virginia. This tax increase may come under the guise of transportation funding reform called “devolution.” Simply put, devolution shifts the cost of certain state responsibilities for transportation from the state to local governments. Although we are of different political parties, we are firmly united in opposition to devolution because of the massive property tax increase it will produce for the residents and businesses of Fairfax, Prince William and Loudoun counties.

After years of neglect, Virginia’s transportation construction and maintenance funds are nearly depleted. Our roads, particularly in Northern Virginia, are in deplorable shape. By the Virginia Department of Transportation’s own admission, 34 percent of secondary roads in Virginia are in substandard condition. This problem — long in the making by the General Assembly — must be addressed by the General Assembly. Local governments and taxpayers should not be expected to shoulder what is now a responsibility of the commonwealth.

Our three counties would likely need to spend hundreds of millions of dollars just to bring our roads up to the neglected statewide maintenance standards. The cost of this action alone could easily exceed $500 per household. Add to that the hundreds of dollars a year per household, per year, it would take to maintain these roads to those standards. It is important to note that once the state abandons this responsibility, it will never take it back.

Our success at the local level to reduce the size of government and focus on essential services while keeping taxes as low as possible has emboldened the commonwealth to continue passing along its failures in governance to localities. We should not be expected to cut back any further. We cannot perform what have historically been the responsibilities of the state and still meet the other areas of need for our residents.

Instead of making decisions on how to deliver essential services such as transportation, the General Assembly has repeatedly refused to act. Ironically, this comes at the same time as the governor has empaneled a task force to assess state mandates on localities, stating that he will support only “justifiable and reasonable mandates on localities.” Well, devolution is neither justifiable nor reasonable.

Over the past several years, the General Assembly has pushed its responsibilities and the financial burden for more than $1 billion in services down to local municipalities. While doing so, members of the General Assembly have claimed that they have not raised taxes. But their decisions have merely required residents to pay for state responsibilities through their local property taxes, saving taxpayers not one penny. Devolution of road maintenance would be more of the same — a shell game that does nothing to address the state’s nearly depleted construction funding.

Northern Virginia is home to some of the largest businesses and almost 25 percent of the residents of the commonwealth. We have a responsibility to protect our constituents from unreasonable actions that make doing business and raising families here difficult. We strongly encourage members of the General Assembly to meet their responsibilities and join us in doing the hard work of governing.

Sharon Bulova, a Democrat, is chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Corey Stewart, a Republican, is chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors. Scott York, a Republican, is chairman of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors.