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Board Members Offer Legislative Priorities, Express Funding Concerns

By Katie Pyzyk

Tuesday - 11/20/2012, 3:59pm  ET

On Saturday (November 17), the County Board took time at its meeting to discuss Arlington’s legislative priorities for the 2013 General Assembly session. During that discussion it quickly became clear the Board members fear significant cuts in the amount of funding the county receives from the state.

Board members are preparing to take a hit, although it’s unclear how serious the situation will be until legislators at the federal and state levels figure out their own financial issues.

In its legislative priorities package, the Board is requesting the restoration of state funds for Arlington, which have been cut in recent years to balance the state’s budget. A county staff report indicates that between fiscal year (FY) 2008 and FY 2013, the state cut $7.2 million in funding to Arlington.

The Board is also making a big push for more state funding for transportation, and requested around $1 billion annually for maintenance and continued operations on roads and the transit infrastructure. Board member Jay Fisette said state funding for transportation over the next three years is “disastrous.”

“We in Arlington and every local government in Virginia, we keep saying it, it sounds like we’re beating a dead horse, but the reality is that is the context in which we do all this work. That’s the context in which the manager has to balance a budget,” Fisette said. “Support from the state level has decreased substantially.”

Board member Libby Garvey shared Fisette’s concern.

“One of the things that I keep hearing, and it’s starting to sink in more and more, I think we all understand the fact that the federal government cuts things to the states, states cut things and it all falls down to the localities to have to do more and more,” she said. “As it gets tighter and tighter and we’re going to be raising taxes and cutting services, which it looks like we’re going to have to do, there’s going to be a lot of push-back from the public.”

County Manager Barbara Donnellan confirmed that the amount of funding coming into Arlington has slipped.

“The degradation [of funding] over the years has been significant,” Donnellan said. “The good news is we don’t have a ton of money from the state and the feds. The bad news is even what you have is still a significant hit if it goes away.”

A county press release offered the following highlights of the legislative priorities package:

  • Fully restore state aid to localities funding – Between FY 2008 and FY 2013, the state cut $7.2 million in funding to critical services in the County to help balance the state’s budget. Cuts in state aid have reduced funding to the Public Library, the Courts, the police department, the Dept. of Human Services, the Commonwealth Attorney’s Office, the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office and other services.
  • Increase transportation funding with new, permanent and reliable sources — There is a critical need for increased funding for transit capital, operations and maintenance. Arlington joins jurisdictions along the I-95 and I-64 corridors in supporting a substantial increase in dedicated funding for roads and transit from new, sustainable sources. Arlington will advocate for at least $1 billion annually to support maintenance and continued operations of Virginia’s existing road and transit infrastructure.
  • Require on-line travel companies to collect and remit all state sales and local transient occupancy taxes — Currently on-line travel companies, such as Expedia, Orbitz or Hotel.com, buy rooms from hotels, then resell them at a higher rate. They are remitting taxes to the state and localities at the wholesale rate they have paid the hotels,not the retail rate that they sold on-line. Arlington County, and other localities, are urging the General Assembly to adopt language that would require these on-line travel companies to pay the full amount of sales and use taxes to the state and local governments and Transient Occupancy Taxes to the localities.
  • Ensure that the state provide adequate resources to support individuals leaving Virginia Training Centers under the Justice Dept. settlement — Arlington expects to need to provide for 23 individuals with severe mental and physical disabilities who will be discharged from the Northern Virginia Training Center External link by June 30, 2015.
  • Housing – Support additional funds for the state Housing Trust Fund that was established in the 2012 budget with one-time money.
  • Immigration – Oppose any state mandates to localities requiring local law enforcement officers to evaluate the immigration status of individuals.

The board will vote on the final version of its legislative package at its December 8 meeting, after hearing from the public. Arlington residents are invited to read the details of the proposed legislative priorities package online and offer feedback until Friday, November 30.

The General Assembly session begins on January 9, 2013, and runs until February 23, 2013.