Northern Virginia officials, angry that federal and state budget cuts are increasing the burden on local governments, pledged in interviews yesterday not to increase local taxes.
Given the choice of increasing taxes in order to fully fund programs or cutting services, the officials said they will cut.
Furthermore, with the entire legislature and most local boards of supervisors facing an election in 1991, it seems unlikely that any state or local tax increase will be approved until at least 1992, they said.
"If the president is not going to raise taxes and the governor of the commonwealth is not going to raise taxes, I don't think I'm going to raise taxes," said Prince William County Supervisor Edwin C. King (D-Dumfries).
Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder said last week that the state will cut about $333.5 million in aid to local governments in the next two years to help eradicate a projected $1.4 billion state deficit. Cuts of that magnitude would be made by slashing state spending on education, housing, mental health and retardation and other human services programs.
Local officials complained that Wilder's action has unfairly shifted the burden onto them.
"This is a shared system of government with shared responsibilities," King said.
"What bothers me is that, without even considering the needs, the upper levels can say 'No new taxes,' but who is going to fund the needs of the people?"
"In order for Ronald Reagan to cuts taxes, localities had to increase them," said Alexandria Mayor James P. Moran Jr. "Our taxpayers have had to make up for federal, and now state cuts, and we can't ask them to pay any more in the 1990s; they were squeezed enough in the 1980s."
Local governments throughout the region are struggling through tough fiscal times because of cutbacks in state and federal aid, changes in tax laws, a slumping economy, and taxpayer outrage at higher tax bills.
State officials struggling with their own budget problems, however, could muster little sympathy for their local brethren.
"The localities are always poor-mouthing and crying, and it's breaking my heart," said state Del. Warren G. Stambaugh (D-Arlington), a member of the House Finance Committee.
Stambaugh denied that state officials cut local aid under the assumption that local governments will pick up the tab.
"Maybe the assumption is that local governments can tighten their belts," he said. "Certainly the bloated Fairfax County budget can stand some belt-tightening."
"The state is not doing anything to localities that the state isn't doing to itself," said Del. Leslie Byrne (D-Fairfax), also a Finance Committee member.
"Localities are in the same state of mind as the state government in looking to trim services rather than increase taxes. No one is stepping up to the plate and saying, 'I'm going to increase taxes,' no matter what level of government you're looking at," Byrne said.
Even if the current economic downturn persists for a few years, Byrne and Stambaugh said, it is unlikely that the state will increase taxes.
"I take the governor at his word that he will not seek or support any new tax increase" for the duration of his term, which expires in January 1994, Byrne said, adding that even if the legislature approved a tax increase, "I would expect he'd veto anything we came up with."
Noting that some of the state's poorer jurisdictions are fighting for more education money and threatening litigation over funding formulas, Stambaugh said, "We are going to have to sometime in the next three to five years have a significant tax increase to address educational disparities, and we cannot afford to waste a potential tax increase just making up for projected deficits."
Only Moran said he felt the state should consider a tax increase, perhaps raising the state income tax by half a percent so that cuts in local aid would not be as severe.
"I don't think it's unreasonable to suggest a balanced approach, with modest increases in revenue to offset drastic cuts in expenditures," he said, adding, "I don't think there's any conceivable way such a proposal will be taken seriously."
Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Audrey Moore said, "It's time to think lean."
"I haven't heard the public say anything about increasing services; they're complaining that taxes have gone up an awful lot in the last few years, and they saying this is the time for consolidation and streamlining."
If state and local government revenue remains depressed in coming years, she said, "It's because people don't have as much money and they're spending less, so we should spend less too."