alexandrianews.org Editorial

Two weeks ago the Alexandria School Board adopted its FY2019-28 Ten Year Capital Budget. After considerable discussion they discarded the budget that the Superintendent presented and adopted one with a price tag of some $16 million more. The $474.6 million budget is also nearly $106 million more than the one adopted by the City last year and nearly $75 million more than the one recommended by the Ad Hoc Joint City-Schools Facility Investment Task Force. For next year alone the adopted School Board’s figure of $68.3 million is $17 million above the City figure and about $30 million above that developed by the Task Force.

This week Alexandria homeowners and commercial property owners received their 2018 real property assessments. You could almost hear the sigh of relief. Assessments increased a mere two per cent over 2017.

That sigh of relief was certainly no friend to the City’s budgeteers. Even with the large increase in the tax rate over the past two years there will be precious little extra money to be spent. 2018 is an election year in Alexandria and Council will now reap the reward of their excessive spending last year and face massive cuts in City services or another steep increase in the real estate tax.

In addition, the era of very low interest rates looks to be coming to an end. The abandonment of the balanced federal budget goals by the Republican Congress and president and the massive tax cut has injected a huge fiscal stimulus into an economy that was already seeing tighter labor markets and growing inflation. Interest rates are likely to keep on rising which will increase sharply the cost of borrowing to finance the City’s capital projects. Rising interest rates will also slow down growth in house and building prices causing more revenue woes.

We have repeatedly warned that the benign fiscal picture of the last decade would not continue and our current City Council, with the exception of the Mayor, has chosen to ignore the future and to spend like there are no limits. In fact, the idea of limits is very out of fashion in American politics at every level despite massive evidence that limits still exist.

Late in the last century a Republican Governor of Virginia, James Gilmore, enacted a car tax reform that dramatically altered the state’s finances to provide relief to Virginia’s citizens. When the economy turned sour the state budget crashed. Mark Warner, who followed Gilmore, made his political reputation by leading Virginia out of that crisis.

In the last year of George W. Bush’s presidency rising interest rates triggered a crash in the housing sector that set off a near depression in the United States and much of the world. The signs of the crash were there to be seen but politicians of both parties, enamored of expanding home ownership, ignored them completely. Barak Obama made his reputation by leading the United States out of that crisis.

Unfortunately the record shows clearly that politicians in the United States are much more successful in coping with economic crises than with preventing them. The crisis provides the backbone for them to say “No” and to demand more creative and fiscally responsible solutions.

So now we are back to our elected School Board and their quest for massively increased spending. There is no doubt that educating children is critically important but critical importance is no help in removing limits. Buying land and building schools is all well and good but in an era of constrained resources it just doesn’t matter.

We would like to see the School Board actually make some choices. One of the reasons that space is tight at the elementary level is because of their emphasis on pre-school. You might think that this would be rethought and that alternative models might be studied to reduce the need for classrooms in ACPS but the Board, which we have never accused of being a creative bunch, is just content to ask for more money. It is time for that to change.

It is also time for City Council to stop pretending that Alexandria can have it all. We are entering a very uncertain era. For a change we need politicians that are capable of preventing messes. They seem few and far between in the City today and the cleanup this time could well prove far more difficult.