If someone had told me when I left office in 1987 that in 1990 the only two local jurisdictions in the Washington metropolitan area that would be unable to balance their budgets would be the District of Columbia and Fairfax County, I would have dismissed the prediction out of hand. In 1987 Fairfax County was enjoying one of the strongest financial structures of any county in the nation. So what went wrong?
In a July 29 Close to Home piece, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Audrey Moore tried to blame the county's gloomy financial picture on outside factors, such as a drop in federal and state aid and a decline in commercial and residential development. But that is not the whole story. If it were, other jurisdictions in the metropolitan area would also be facing significant problems in trying to balance their budgets.
In fact, Fairfax has had substantial sources of additional funds in the past three years. During its first three fiscal years, the current board enjoyed an increase in county revenues of nearly $455 million in excess of the amount of tax revenues that had been available to the prior board during its last three years in office. That was an enormous infusion of additional revenue.
Granted, each board of supervisors has had substantially more tax revenues available than prior boards. During my last three years in office, for example, tax revenues were $263 million greater than those for the three prior years. But those revenue increases pale when compared with those the current board has had available. If a reasonable amount of restraint and planning for the predicted slowdown had been exercised, the county should not now find itself keeping the District of Columbia company on the local list of fiscally strapped jurisdictions. It is time the Fairfax board faced facts and went on a spending diet to slim down the county budget.
Moore's article also made a case for fiscal problems being related to the downturn in the economy. True, to some extent this downturn has been a result of factors outside the control of the county board. However, one major factor in that downturn is certainly attributable to the shortsighted anti-business policies and attitudes of the majority of the supervisors. Their policies are best illustrated by the imposition of several increases in taxes on the business community, such as doubling the business-equipment tax, the tax on software and increases on business-utility tax. The ill-fated down-zoning that was passed by the board and in part overturned by the General Assembly also did not help the county's economic climate.
So, yes, some circumstances that have led to Fairfax's bleak financial outlook were beyond the control of the board of supervisors. But by no stretch all of them.
-- Jack Herrity is the former chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors.