Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts

Last week’s election results for Virginia statewide offices were exciting for the winners, distressing for the losers, but proved, once again, that Virginia is not the blue state that some media and political pundits claimed. Northern Virginia may be blue, but much of the Commonwealth remains solidly red. Longtime observers may remember that, in the early 1990s, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors had a Republican majority. In 1995, there was a 5-5 split before my election as Mason District Supervisor turned the board “blue,” where it has remained. However, Loudoun County’s Board of Supervisors only gained a Democratic majority in 2019; many of its Constitutional Officers still are Republican.

Likewise, Prince William County’s Board of Supervisors attained a Democratic majority in the 2019 election. One or two election cycles may not determine the depth of voter commitment to a political party’s platform or candidates. One or two generations probably is a better indicator.

Nonetheless, Governor-elect Youngkin’s transition from business executive to governance likely will be eye-opening. The narrow margin of the vote was not a mandate. Like most of the nation, the Commonwealth, and the General Assembly, is split right down the middle. It will take a lot of work, and a lot of persuasion, to bring various factions together if common goals are to be achieved in the legislative session that begins in January, just prior to the inauguration.

Keep a close eye on Mr. Youngkin’s campaign promises to eliminate the grocery tax, raise teacher salaries, and reduce the gasoline tax. The state sales tax in Northern Virginia is six percent; for food and personal hygiene products, the state tax is 2.5 percent. The local share of the grocery tax remitted to Fairfax County is approximately $60 million, or the equivalent of almost three cents on the real estate tax rate. Likewise, the current gasoline tax provides revenue for upkeep of highways and local roadways, which is a state, not county, responsibility. Raising teacher salaries was a hallmark of the General Assembly for Fiscal Year 2022, but the fiscal details often slip by the state lawmakers. The cost to Fairfax County for that five percent increase this spring was $122.9 million, but the state provided funding only for two percent of that five percent raise, or $22.4 million. Localities must provide a local fund match, which required an additional $11.4 million in local funds, or an additional four cents on the real estate tax rate, to fully fund the Commonwealth’s promised increase. To draw down on the additional state funding, Fairfax County had to provide at least an additional two percent match, which would have resulted in a net cost to our school system, and county taxpayers, of $40.2 million, with the state cost a mere $8.9 million. The governor-elect’s promises look good on a campaign mailer, but taking away the local share of state revenues, and expecting local taxpayers to make up the difference, is not the way to foster a positive relationship with Virginia’s counties.

Parking availability, or lack of it, can be a lively discussion in neighborhoods and retail areas. The Fairfax County Department of Planning and Development, Zoning Administration Division (ZAD), will host a Parking Re-Imagined Community Engagement virtual town meeting for Mason District on Thursday, November 18, 2021, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. You can find out more about the issue at ZAD’s website, www.fairfaxcounty.gov/planning-development/zoning-ordinance/parking-reimagined. The website also provides information about how to participate, and a meeting link will be announced soon.

My grandfather was a World War II veteran, my father was a World War II and Korean War veteran, and my husband and my brother served in peacetime, so Veterans’ Day has special significance for me. On Thursday, fly the flag, if you have one, and always remember the sacrifices our military members made long ago, and not-so-long-ago, to keep our country safe, and our democracy secure. God bless America!

Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at mason@fairfaxcounty.gov.