To the Editor:

The campaign for the June primary is well under way. It is no surprise that candidates are generally in favor of schools, affordable housing, small business, inclusion.

One issue, however, overshadows all others – managing the City's budget. Every candidate should be required to explain what services they are prepared to cut and what taxes they would raise.

As the Office of Management and Budget emphasizes every year, the City's forecasted revenues will grow at a slower rate than forecasted expenditures for the foreseeable future.

At current rates, the gap between revenues and expenditures will grow by $20 million dollars per year. In FY2020, the gap will be $20 million (3% of forecasted expenditures). By FY2023, the gap will be $77 million (9% of forecasted expenditures).

To balance the budget, the City will have to reduce the level of its services every year. As a result, the budget allocation process is a zero-sum game. An increase in one City service requires a cut in another. We can increase the budget for education every year, but only by reducing the budget of other services.

Candidates for City Council should be clear about which services they would reduce to fund the services they are promoting in their campaigns.

There should be no surprise next year as there was this spring when City Council voted to increase the meals tax and dedicate those funds to affordable housing. (The FY2019 Proposed Budget mentioned that the tax increase would be considered but did not mention that the increase might be dedicated to one City service over all others.)

Some candidates are likely to offer 'development' as the solution to increase revenues, which would reduce the need for trade-offs. It is a false promise.

The assessed value of property in Alexandria would have to increase by an additional $1.8 billion every year to provide the additional $20 million of needed revenue.

From 2011 to 2018, the growth in assessed value was $7.5 billion, less than $1.1 billion per year. For 'development' to fill the budget gap, we will need to triple the current growth rate in assessed value, every year.

Anyone suggesting that our budget gap can be filled by 'development' needs to explain what 'development' could possibly generate enough growth in assessed property value to fill the gap.

The Democratic primary in June is the only election that matters for City Council. There will be little opportunity to debate budget management in November. This is the time to require candidates to be clear about the trade-offs they would make and the source of additional revenues they hope to generate.

Sincerely,

Howard Bergman
Alexandria, VA