This election is about the heart and soul of Fairfax County: Do we want to move forward with excellent schools, low crime rates and careful stewardship of the environment? Or are we going to turn our community over to those who will sacrifice the quality of life we treasure to a narrow ideological agenda?
Will we promote a county in which diversity is celebrated, or suspect? Will we continue to invest in our public education by hiring the best teachers, or will we allow it to decline in a morass of wedge social issues, larger classroom sizes and vouchers? Will we maintain the safety net we have so carefully built to help neighbors in need, or let it fray? Will we stand with our public safety employees and give them the tools they need to protect us, or will we retrench and just hope for the best?
I am proud of the fact that in the past five years we have acquired 6,011 acres of parkland. That's the equivalent of more than seven Central Parks in New York City. Will we continue to be good stewards of the land, or will we replace environmental action with empty rhetoric? We face real choices in this election.
After the past 18 months -- the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon, the anthrax scare, the sniper attacks and the potential for terror incidents during the war with Iraq -- this county cannot hand over the reins of its government to an untried, untested, ideological leadership. Experience really does matter this year.
Today in Fairfax County, we have one of the lowest crime rates in the country, a nationally recognized public school system, an award-winning public park system and an economy that grows annually even as our nation skates on the edge of recession.
But we face serious challenges in homeland security, air and water quality, transportation and housing. We need to extend rail to Tysons Corner and Dulles International Airport and in the Interstate 66 corridor to Centreville. And we cannot continue to rely primarily on homeowners for the resources we need to meet these challenges and to maintain the excellence of our public school system.
For the first time since I've been in office, we have a governor who wants to be this county's partner in providing us with the tools we need to ease the tax burden on our homeowners.
I am proud to have Gov. Mark Warner's endorsement. The time is right for a coalition of Northern Virginia legislators and county officials with the determination and political will to pressure the General Assembly to give us our fair share of state revenue and the flexibility to restructure our finances.
Both actions are critical in giving us the added resources we need to meet the challenges we face while relieving the tax burden on homeowners.
At the same time, Fairfax County must continue to find savings in government budgets and to employ new technologies to streamline the delivery of services. We must continue to look at what county government does and whether or not it should be doing it.
And in the face of rising property valuations, we must continue to reduce the tax rate. And we will.
Talk is cheap. I pledge to you today that working with my colleagues on the board, I will cut the tax rate and -- unlike my opponents -- we will identify the offsetting spending reductions.
In addition to reducing the tax rate, we must redouble our efforts in Richmond. Embedded in our real estate tax rate is a 15-cent "Richmond tax" that should be eliminated. We want a fair share for Fairfax from Richmond.
Ironically both of my opponents want to make the situation worse. They have called for a new road bond referendum. My friends, an unplanned road bond referendum will directly affect our ability to build new schools and renovate old ones. With 14,000 kids in trailers and no help from the state in school construction, we cannot afford to slacken our commitment to education. Which schools would my opponents not build or renovate? Indeed, roads are a state responsibility, and I will fight any effort to have Fairfax taxpayers bear that additional burden as well. Today we only get 19 cents back on every dollar we send Richmond. I will not support getting even less than that.
The person to lead this effort must be one with a record of bringing people together, reaching out to our diverse communities and building bipartisan coalitions that produce solutions.
I've worked with civic associations and other neighborhood groups to produce solutions on issues ranging from land use to traffic.
I initiated the 38-mile-long Cross-County Trail. On the board of the regional Council of Governments, I played a pivotal role in bringing the region together on a drought emergency plan. I have taken a lead in bringing government and the private sector together on clear goals for increasing telework, or telecommuting, thus reducing traffic and vehicle emissions. And, after 9/11, I helped design the region's emergency preparedness plan.
I believe Fairfax voters want to retain a centrist approach to government, an intelligent, common-sense approach. Fairfax voters will reject an ideologue, one with a history of creating wedge issues and dividing our citizens.
Now, as never before, we need to come together -- as neighborhoods, as a community, and as a county.
Fairfax is my passion. I propose to put my passion to work leading this county for the next four years.
-- Gerald E. Connolly
County Supervisor, Providence District