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I am writing because there was a major misrepresentation of Fairfax County’s budget in the August 4, 2016, commentary submitted by Claude Andersen (Director of Operations, Clyde’s Restaurant Group).
Mr. Anderson opposes the upcoming meals tax referendum, but he is providing very bad information to justify his position. Mr. Andersen erroneously claims that the Fairfax County budget has increased by almost $1 BILLION since 2012.
However, the nominal growth since 2012 is only $442.1-474.8 MILLION, depending on whether one looks at FY2012/FY2016 or FY2013/FY2017. And in inflation-adjusted terms, the growth is only $265.1-298.4 MILLION (2016 dollars).
More importantly, Mr. Anderson ignores the fact that Fairfax County already suffered years of cuts before 2012. When unemployment went up and housing prices went down, Fairfax County Public Schools and the Fairfax County government shared in the pain by embracing austerity.
By FY2012, the inflation-adjusted Fairfax County budget was down $237.3 MILLION from FY2008 (2016 dollars). And inflation-adjusted per-pupil operating fund spending at Fairfax County Public Schools was down $1,451 (2016 dollars). Inflation-adjusted per-pupil operating fund spending at FCPS still has not fully recovered.
The fact is, the Fairfax County budget annual percentage inflation-adjusted growth since FY2008 is only 0.44 percent; the FCPS operating budget annual percentage inflation-adjusted growth since FY2008 is only 0.73 percent.
In contrast, the annual percentage growth of the general population during around the same period is 0.97 percent (2007-15), while the annual percentage growth in the number of pupils at Fairfax County Public Schools since FY2008 is 1.3 percent.
Thus, both the Fairfax County budget and the FCPS operating budget have been outpaced by increased demand since FY2008. The FCPS budget has been particularly stretched thin because both the number of students receiving English for speakers of other languages services and the number of students eligible for free or reduced price lunches have increased by almost 50 percent since FY2008 (an annual percentage growth of over 4.5 percent). Many of these students are at risk of falling far behind without some additional time, attention, and resources.
Additional time, attention, and resources costs a little extra, but every child deserves the opportunity to make the most of his or her vast, innate potential.
Mr. Andersen’s baseless claim that our county just needs to better emphasize “frugality, efficiency, and good management” is a dangerous fantasy based on a distorted picture of Fairfax County finances. In the face of economic challenges and increased demands, Fairfax County and FCPS have become significantly more efficient since FY2008. But the low-hanging fruit has been picked.
Neither Mr. Anderson nor anyone else has proposed reasonable ideas for greater efficiency that come anywhere close to the much-needed $97 MILLION revenue boost we would get by adopting a meals tax.
The time for mindless austerity in Fairfax County must come to an end. Unemployment is down while income is up; yet Fairfax County is at risk of being ideologically-driven into a self-inflicted prolonged decline. We need to vote YES! for the meals tax referendum on November 8th to diversify our tax base, to keep real property tax rates from rising sharply, and to preserve the quality of our schools, services, and communities.
Jason V. Morgan