Growth, Spending Divide Top Chairman Contenders

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 9, 2007

The major candidates for Fairfax County Board of Supervisors chairman clashed on tax and budget issues last night, disagreeing most sharply on the idea of a cap on real estate assessments.

Republican Gary H. Baise said he would consider establishing the kind of limit on annual increases in assessments that is in place in the District and parts of Maryland. He said it might be one way to curb what he described as "a spending frenzy" by county government under the tenure of Democratic incumbent Gerald E. Connolly.

"What we have here is uncontrolled spending," Baise said in response to a question during a debate sponsored by Comcast studios in Reston. Independent Green candidate Gail Parker also participated.

Connolly jumped on Baise's answer, declaring he was "shocked" that the Falls Church lawyer would consider an idea that has hampered public education and other vital services in jurisdictions that have imposed such caps, including Prince George's County.

Connolly called such caps "gimmicky ideas that sound good but have terrible long-term consequences."

Connolly and Baise aired other considerable differences on fiscal policies during the 75-minute debate. Baise said that if elected, he would create a "blue ribbon" panel of former federal inspectors general and Office of Management and Budget officials to closely examine the county's budget to look for waste.

"Let them go through this $6 billion budget," Baise said. He added that he would start by cutting the budget of the chairman's office, which he said had increased significantly during Connolly's four-year tenure.

Connolly defended his board's spending priorities, asserting that the overwhelming proportion of new tax revenue each year has been invested in schools, police and fire protection and new facilities to help meet those needs.

"We don't have a runaway government," he said.

As they have in past joint appearances, Baise and Connolly disagreed sharply on development and transportation issues.

Baise said Connolly and the board have not been nearly as aggressive as other jurisdictions in demanding financial commitments, or "proffers," from developers to underwrite road and school improvements necessitated by construction.

Connolly said Baise was misrepresenting the issue because he was not taking into account non-cash contributions from developers, such as land that has been used for new schools and libraries.

Connolly also pointed out that the General Assembly has given the county two new tools to help guide land use and development: the power to tax commercial property at a higher rate than residential property and "impact fees" that can be charged to builders to offset the cost of infrastructure.

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