The proposed 16.4 percent increase in county funds for Fairfax County public schools would be the largest increase since 1982. An incorrect date was given in a Metro section article yesterday. (Published 1/10/88)
Northern Virginia lawmakers, who in recent years have returned rich with the spoils of victory from the annual legislative skirmishes in Richmond, are hoping this year simply to hang on to what they've gained.
Unlike sessions of the Virginia General Assembly since 1985, which were marked by bold financing initiatives designed to ease Northern Virginia's transportation crunch, some local legislators see the 1988 term starting Wednesday as an opportunity to lock in past victories.
Last year, for example, Fairfax and Loudoun county legislators were jubilant when the General Assembly approved a measure allowing the counties to tax major commercial developers to help finance key road improvements, such as the widening of traffic-clogged Rte. 28 near Dulles International Airport.
This year, the same lawmakers are trying to rescue that legislation in the wake of a state Supreme Court ruling in November that disallowed a financing mechanism that would have helped pay for the work for such projects.
Accordingly, Northern Virginia's principal localities -- Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties and the City of Alexandria -- have adopted legislative wish lists for the coming term primarily composed of administrative housekeeping items rather than ambitious attempts to expand their authority. (Under Virginia's Constitution, localities have only the powers expressly granted them by the state legislature -- a formulation known as Dillon's Rule.)
Not only have Northern Virginia lawmakers shortened their wish lists, but in at least one key area, the allocation of state funds for education, their main goal is to avoid any sharp cutbacks for wealthy suburban school systems. Many legislators acknowledge that a consensus is developing that the state should do more for schools in poorer, mostly rural areas, a policy tilt that could squeeze Northern Virginia's more prosperous school systems.
Fairfax Superintendent Robert R. Spillane, wary of possible changes in the state's education funding formula, proposed this week a 16.4 percent increase in county funds as part of his $739 million budget for fiscal 1989 -- the sharpest increase since 1972. The proposal includes $190.7 million in state aid, a 2 percent drop in the state's share of the county budget from the current fiscal year.
"We do need to do something about" improving hard-pressed rural school systems, said Del. James H. Dillard II (R-Fairfax), a teacher from the Burke area. "At the same time we need to protect our interests up here."
State Sen. Clive L. DuVal 2d (D-Fairfax), a lawyer and dean of Northern Virginia's 29-member delegation to the General Assembly, seemed to capture the general defensive posture in which some local legislators are approaching the two-month session: "With our clout on the money committees, we can stop anything too bad from happening," he said.
Despite that wariness, Northern Virginia is seeking to win higher levels of state support in a number of areas, among them long-planned capital improvements for colleges and universities, day care facilities and a fund for affordable housing, as part of Gov. Gerald L. Baliles anticipated $21 billion spending plan for 1988-90.
The governor will unveil his two-year budget when the legislature convenes.
Officials and lawmakers are also seeking a number of bills that have fared poorly in the past, including legislation providing for the election of local school board members (who are now appointed); establishing the state's first small claims court, in Fairfax, on an experimental basis, and allowing localities to require that adequate public facilities, such as roads and sewers, be in place before new development takes place.
In the annual competition for state funds, Northern Virginia will have a champion in Del. Dorothy S. McDiarmid (D-Fairfax), the delegation's senior member in the House of Delegates and the chairman of the powerful House Appropriations Committee.
McDiarmid's position as head of the legislature's key spending panel, as well as DuVal's post as one of the senior members of the Senate Finance Committee, mean that Northern Virginia will have a strong voice in spending decisions.
Northern Virginia expects to attract significant state financing for school building programs, especially at George Mason University in Fairfax and the campuses of Northern Virginia Community College.
George Mason, Virginia's fastest growing state-funded university, is seeking a $10.5 million building for its engineering school, a $6 million structure for its business and public policy program, and $6 million to pay for 200 new positions, half of them professors.
University officials are also seeking a 10 percent cost-of-living increase during the next two years for George Mason's faculty, an increase for which university officials did not supply a cost estimate.
J. Wade Gilley, George Mason's senior vice president, said the school had become so crowded because of the area's explosive growth that "they're hanging from the rafters in engineering . . . . "
Richard J. Ernst, president of Northern Virginia Community College, said his school is seeking $5.9 million for facilities that would double the size of the Woodbridge campus, including new classroom and laboratory space and a small auditorium. The Woodbridge campus serves the fast-growing eastern end of Prince William County.
The population boom in Prince William has also led officials there to seek permission from the legislature to impose a variety of tax increases.
Although it has tried without success to do so in the past, the county is asking lawmakers for the authority to tax tobacco products and restaurant meals, which County Executive Robert S. Noe Jr. said would produce $2.5 million in annual revenues.
Noe said Prince William is also seeking authority to raise the sales tax in the county and to impose new taxes or fees in some form on developers to help pay for transportation improvements.
Noe said this week that Prince William may also be forced to impose a sharp increase in the real estate tax, which does not require state approval, to help pay for its expanding budget needs.
Fairfax, buoyed by increasing revenues from its economic development program, has adopted a legislative agenda dominated by modest administrative measures.
Among the county's top priorities are bills that would allow it to adopt tougher financial disclosure rules for public officials than the state law requires; allow the local Housing and Redevelopment Authority to own and operate -- not merely finance -- affordable housing projects and nursing homes, and allow the county to penalize the owners of fire and burglar alarms that repeatedly set off false alarms.
Alexandria Mayor James P. Moran Jr. would like to reduce the real estate taxes paid by city residents who are longtime residents of the same house. The proposal is given little chance of success; a number of lawmakers say privately that such a tax break would violate the state Constitution.
The city is expected, however, to receive $150,000 in additional state aid (it received $150,000 last year) to help build a shelter for troubled youngsters in the West End. The shelter, which would replace the 25-year-old youth center at the same location, would accommodate "kids in trouble who have not done anything criminal," according to Del. Marian Van Landingham (D-Alexandria), a member of the House Appropriations Committee.
Van Landingham and other members of Northern Virginia's delegation are also hoping for a significant increase in the state's subsidies for child day care.
State Sen. Wiley F. Mitchell Jr. (R-Alexandria), citing Virginia's anticipated $154 million surplus, has proposed that the state reverse a tax increase for many Virginians who itemize their deductions -- a group that includes many Northern Virginians.
"We should provide the same tax relief for middle- and upper-income Virginians that we have already provided for lower-income Virginians," Mitchell said in an interview. His proposal, which enjoys support from many Republicans in the legislature, is thought unlikely to get through the Democratic-dominated General Assembly.
Several Northern Virginia lawmakers, in particular Del. James F. Almand (D-Fairfax), are hoping the governor's budget includes at least part of a new housing trust fund that would be the source of grants and loans to help maintain and expand the affordable housing supply around the state. The fund would compensate for at least part of an estimated $100 million a year that Virginia has lost because of cuts in federal aid.