The Arlington County Board raised taxes nearly ten percent yesterday in order to increase County government spending even further. Real estate taxes will go up from a rate of 87.5 cents to 95.8 cents per $100 of assessed value, costing the typical Arlington County homeowner at least $500.
Although inflation has plunged to almost zero in the recession, and private sector employees are tightening their belts and taking pay cuts, “County employees will receive merit-based raises” and other increases under the County’s annual budget.
County spending “has more than doubled” since the start of the housing bubble, and shows no sign of decreasing now that the bubble has ended. Arlington County’s all-liberal board has barely disguised its contempt for fiscal watchdogs who have questioned wasteful County spending.
County employees are paid better on average than the residents who pay their salaries. Even teachers, far from the best paid public employees, typically receive compensation of around $100,000 per year in Arlington, even assuming they don’t work in the summer. (A couple years ago, when their compensation was slightly lower, Arlington teachers’ salaries averaged $71,148, and their pension and other benefits averaged about $27,636, for a total compensation of about $100,000. The value of their benefits has since increased.)
SAT scores are lower in Arlington than in neighboring Fairfax and Loudoun Counties, even though Arlington spends twice as much per student as Loudoun County and much more than Fairfax County. (Unlike Arlington’s one-party government, those Counties have competitive political systems where incumbents risk losing reelection if they raise taxes, which gives them an incentive to reduce wasteful spending.)
In nearby Montgomery County, where public employees have a similar death-grip on County government, the County Council last year allowed public employees to collect inflated pensions based on non-existent earnings. This was too much even for the liberal Washington Post, which has not endorsed a Republican for president since 1952, and a Post editorial today suggests that the County may be watering down this concession to the public employee unions as the County’s tide of red ink grows.
As the Post notes, “Montgomery County politicians have spent the past decade outdoing each other in lavishing favors on public employee unions, whose memberships are presumed to constitute critical voting blocs,” showing a “deeply ingrained reflex of coddling public employees’ unions.”
Tax rates should be much lower in Arlington County than in other Counties in the region, because its natural expenses are much, much lower (it has far fewer school-age children to educate than do Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William Counties, as a fraction of its population) and because its tax base is much richer (due to lots of commercial property within its borders). Yet its tax rates are not much lower than Fairfax’s, thanks to the enormous wasteful spending of the Arlington County Board.