Local Commentary

Editorial: Keep Taxes Flat & Fund the Schools

We applaud most of all on the Falls Church City Council Vice Mayor David Snyder and Council members Daniel Sze and Marybeth Connelly for their willingness to “think outside the box” in budget proposals they offered variously in the last week to defy the official wisdom at City Hall and use either a small portion of the much higher than expected proceeds from the sale of the water system or the City’s humongous unassigned fund balance, or a combination, to keep the real estate tax rate flat while fully funding the School Board’s request.

First and foremost, the School Board’s request is air tight, absolutely solid and can’t be cut a thin dime without the quality of classroom education being compromised. What a crying shame it would be if, days after the City’s George Mason High School is ranked Number One in Virginia (see story, Page One) that it should be sacrificed one iota to the sharp pencils of bureaucrats and public officials at City Hall. School Board Vice Chair Justin Castillo presents a succinct summary of the School Board’s case, its issues and needs, in the Guest Commentary of this edition.

The problem that develops every year as the wind down to final decisions on the budget occurs is that everything gets reduced to numbers on paper. No longer is any consideration given, really, to the actual impacts on flesh and blood people. It becomes a game of barter between numbers on a sheet. For example, there is always the suggestion that cuts to the City side of the budget and the Schools’ side be equal, as if the needs are actually the same. Then there is the fiction of the budget, itself. In reality, there is a single sum of money, mostly coming from citizen taxpayers, and there are priorities.

As for the fund balance – the amount that the City simply harbors in a bank account as a “rainy day fund” or “Godzilla recovery fund” – the obsession with maintaining a 17 percent level is tantamount to monetarist idol worshiping, especially when set against the known realities of record enrollment growth, on the one hand, and escalating real estate values on the other. These pressures are very real, for students and for taxpayers both, but to ignore them in favor of a questionable monetarist ideology’s unyielding demand is, well, it’s not cool.

Vice Mayor Snyder makes a compelling case for using a small portion of proceeds from the sale of the water system (now estimated closer to $20 million than $14 million originally thought) to pay the $5 million portion of the $80 million budget that is the City’s service on capital improvement debt. He argues that this uses sale proceeds for one-time capital improvements, just paying for past instead of future such improvements.

It makes perfect sense to us, especially if some portion of it went to paying down some principle, as well.