The Fairfax County Chamber of Commerce launched a public relations offensive yesterday apparently aimed at electing a Board of Supervisors next year that is more favorably inclined toward business interests.
Chamber officials said they are concerned that the current board has fostered an anti-business climate and a perception that the business community has not paid its share of the costs of the county's explosive growth.
Three years ago, when Chairman Audrey Moore and other supervisors favoring slow growth were elected after a campaign that became a referendum on transportation and development, business leaders did not aggressively unite behind a candidate or an election strategy until late in the game. Yesterday's Chamber of Commerce news conference comes more than a year before the next board election.
This year, as part of the chamber's campaign, a report on business contributions to the county will be distributed to employees of the chamber's 2,000-plus members "to better inform them so they can make decisions" in the coming election year, chamber officials said.
Chamber Chairman Burwell Gunn, an executive vice president of Crestar Bank, said that the "education program" would emphasize "the need to promote economic growth as the critical element" to continued prosperity.
Gunn and former chairman Gary Hevey said the chamber is not trying to blame local officials for problems caused by the region's slumping economy. "Our concern is that public policy at the local level is merely exacerbating" the problems, Hevey said.
However, chamber and other business officials have bitterly opposed board actions increasing county business taxes and a reduction in building densities permitted on commercial and industrial property in the county.
In the 1987 elections, Democrat Moore trounced incumbent Republican Chairman John F. Herrity, who for years had cultivated close ties with the business and development communities and had headed a board generally perceived as pro-business.
Herrity and Supervisor Thomas M. Davis III (R-Mason) are now unofficially running for the Republican nomination to challenge Moore next year.
Chamber officials said their campaign is not partisan, but an attempt to educate residents about the good things that the business community has done for the county. In addition to supplying more than 35 percent of the county's annual tax revenue, the officials said, the business community also has contributed millions of dollars to local charities, education, transportation and the arts.
The cornerstone of the chamber's campaign is a 24-page report, called "Fairfax Futures," by George Mason University professor James T. Bennett. Although the university is a member of the chamber and GMU President George W. Johnson is on the chamber's board of directors, Gunn said the report was "independent and unbiased."
The report is critical of county government spending -- noting that while county population grew 29 percent in the last decade, county expenditures grew 69 percent. The report does not mention, however, that total office space in the county in the last 10 years increased from about 19 million square feet to more than 60 million square feet.
The report notes that "typically, business growth more than pays its own way" and concludes that "virtually every aspect of the quality of life in Fairfax County has been greatly enhanced by the support and involvement of the business coommunity."
The report notes:In fiscal 1980, business taxes and fees generated $57.4 million, or 18.6 percent, of the county's $307 million total revenue. In fiscal 1990, the business sector contributed 35.5 percent ($390.2 million) of the county's $1.11 billion total revenue. In addition to annual taxes, Fairfax businesses contributed $500 million to $700 million in private road improvements in the 1980s as part of the county's rezoning process. Local firms donate hundreds of employee hours and millions of dollars to local education programs, the arts and charities, including $5.5 million to the Fairfax County Public Schools Education Foundation in the past six years, $339,000 annually to the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra, and more than $695,000 a year to the United Way.
Moore was out of town yesterday and not available for comment. Her chief aide, Martin Machowsky, said that the only time she has supported business tax increases were "in the context of a balanced package of revenues to fund transportation initiatives."
Machowsky said the business community has gone on the offensive against Moore because of board actions reducing development rights. "Audrey has always argued that controlled growth and economic prosperity are not competing goals, but complementary," he said.