Commentary, Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts

As Fairfax County’s budget season was beginning, Virginia’s budget season was ending, or so everyone thought.  The Virginia General Assembly adjourned on February 25 without adopting a complete state budget, pledging instead to come back in April to finish the job.  That lack of action on a final budget places localities in the unacceptable position of not knowing how much state revenue will be available for local services.  Counties in Virginia rely heavily on the real estate tax for local revenues; they do not access income tax revenues.  State taxes are paid to the Commonwealth of Virginia, which generally returns to Fairfax County only about 25 cents of every tax dollar sent to Richmond.  The state remittance is only about 2.2 percent of the county’s five-Billion-dollar budget, but it is a source of revenue that can reduce the burden on the residential real estate taxpayer.  

Localities are required to adopt balanced budgets in the spring for the Fiscal Year that begins July 1, 2023.  Unlike the federal government, localities cannot run a deficit or pass Continuing Resolutions to kick the budget down the road; local budgets must be balanced, on both the revenue and the expenditure side.  Without a firm commitment from the Commonwealth, localities are left to speculate what state revenue might be available for public education, mental health services, and other local programs that receive some state support.  Commonwealth officials bragged about a huge state surplus this year, but there is no surplus until all the bills are paid, as local officials have reminded lawmakers in Richmond many times.

When County Executive Bryan Hill presented his proposed budget to the Board of Supervisors on February 21, he based it on the current tax rate of $1.11 per $100 valuation, but did not allocate $90 million in revenue, leaving it for Board consideration as to its disposition.  That “disposition” could, and should, be applied to a tax rate decrease.  The Board will advertise the tax rate at its March 7 meeting; the eventual adopted tax rate can be lower than the advertised rate but, by law, it cannot be higher.  The Mason District Budget Town Meeting will be held on Thursday, March 9, at 7 p.m., at the Mason District Governmental Center, 6507 Columbia Pike in Annandale.  I look forward to seeing you there.

Although the General Assembly still has work to do, some longtime members of the Fairfax County delegation announced their retirement at the end of the official session.  Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, who has served for more than 40 years, will be a major loss to Mason District especially, and to Northern Virginia as a whole.  His mastery of the arcane rules of the state Senate, and the relationships forged across decades, are skills that will be impossible to replace.  Likewise, Delegate Ken Plum, who represents the Reston area, and is the longest-serving delegate, will retire after 40 years of service.  Delegate Plum’s dedication to improving public education will be missed by the largest school district in the Commonwealth.  Delegate Kathleen Murphy, from the McLean area, also announced her retirement, and Senator Janet Howell, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, is expected to make a retirement announcement soon. These four legislators certainly have earned their retirements, but, together, they have more than 100 years of leadership and seniority, and it will take decades to re-establish that kind of seniority and deep experience for Northern Virginia.       

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