Local Commentary

Editorial: Pleasure, Pain & Politics

Too many over-privileged residential property owners in the City of Falls Church have been insisting on having their cake and eating it, too, as the saying goes, for too long. All the signposts are up and read clearly. This is going to be the tightest budget cycle in many years. For the City’s vulnerable, this is bad news. Its school children, its social service recipients, its seniors and its lower income households are particularly at risk.

The over-privileged have already made their demands to the Falls Church City Council loud and clear. Council members have, so far, stepped to, adopting the posture that, above all, there will be no residential real estate tax rate increases. These same people have also ordered them to protect their pristine neighborhoods from anything associated with new large-scale development projects, even at the expense of prospective new revenues to pay for vital services.

Unfortunately, the vulnerable in our community have no such powerhouse lobby. The over-privileged lean on the Council with what they claim is the power of the vote. Although no one on the Falls Church City Council has ever, in over 60 years to our knowledge, achieved a higher electoral office, they all seem to react with wobbly knees at the very notion someone may threaten to un-elect them. Could it be the big bucks they’d lose if bumped from office? Doubtful. They now earn whopping $2,400 annually. So, when this factor is operative, it has to be based on a desire for approval: Council members seeking pats on the head from, in most cases, their richer peers that live in bigger houses and have more important day jobs.

Such a manner of operating a government is according to the pleasure-pain principle (the marginal utility notion that if the pleasure of having something exceeds the pain of acquiring it, you’ll buy). From the over-privileged the Council gets either the pleasure of acceptance or the pain of shunning. On the other hand, it will not get from the vulnerable either enough pleasure or enough pain to compete against what the over-privileged can provide.

Heck, the vulnerable can’t even vote. They’re either too young or infirm, generally. They can’t storm the Council chambers and frighten the Council with their big numbers and loud voices (which is routinely done very effectively by the over-privileged even when only a half dozen of them show up). No, the Council will have no one but themselves, besides a pesky local newspaper and some individual do-gooders, to count on to stand up for the needs of the vulnerable. Occasionally, some much bigger power, looking in on Falls Church from the outside, has mandated or shamed the City into being more responsive. But that usually has come after the fact. Otherwise, the burden to do the right thing hangs solely on the Council’s shoulders and consciences, alone.