Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sharon Bulova: A Candidate of Substance

The following is the classic definition of chutzpah: A defendant accused of murder is convicted, and at his sentencing throws himself on the mercy of the court because he is an orphan.

Here’s a newer definition: The Republicans, who until recently were in charge of all three branches of the federal government, cause an international economic meltdown and financial crisis of epic proportions. Then, local GOP politicians point their fingers at Democratic incumbents in well run counties and towns and accuse them of causing the budget shortfalls now showing up in localities across the country. That is either real chutzpah or a shocking lack of understanding of basic economics and ignorance of the principles of good governance.

That was the tactic Keith Fimian used in his campaign against former Fairfax Chairman, Gerry Connolly. And The Chronicle called him out in this statement:
Fairfax County government has won awards for its management and Fairfax residents know that they have a very effective county government and school system and strongly support it. This has made it difficult for Fimian to find an example of governmental failure to pin on Connolly. His most recent clever solution to this problem has been to blame Connolly for the projected 2010 budget deficit of $430 million. He has been sending out regular press releases to area newspapers citing the projected deficit and blaming Connolly. All this even before the Board of Supervisors has held their first meeting to address the problem.

Blaming Connolly for the budget challenge that the county faces best illustrates Fimian’s total lack of understanding of the critical issues facing the county, state, and federal governments. It would appear that he doesn’t realize that virtually every local government in metropolitan Washington is struggling with the same issue. For example, last year Fairfax County was able to close a significant budget shortfall and maintain essential programs with only a three-cent increase in the property tax rate, which, for the average taxpayer, represented no actual increase in taxes as a result of the decrease of the average assessment. By contrast, Republican-controlled Prince William County raised their tax rate by 27 percent.
But that blunt talk has not deterred other Republicans from using the same losing line in their latest campaign attacks. Take Pat Herrity, who is reprising the unsuccessful Fimian accusation in his campaign against Sharon Bulova for the Chairman’s seat. Now, here’s what the Washington Post said about it.
It's that fiscal crisis -- a $650 million hole in a $3.4 billion fiscal 2010 budget -- that has dominated the campaign. Both candidates agree that the property tax rate must be raised and that deep cuts will still be impossible to avoid. But Mr. Herrity contends that Ms. Bulova and her Democratic colleagues increased spending recklessly in recent years and didn't do enough to gird for the current crisis.

There's some truth to this. Although the property tax rate was actually reduced as home values skyrocketed, the amount of taxes homeowners paid doubled in the past seven years. But the spending wasn't profligate -- about three-fourths of the increased revenue went to education and public safety. Some of the money also went to a reserve fund Ms. Bulova wisely created in the 1990s. It's hard to fault her for failing to foresee an unprecedented financial collapse that has left localities across the region reeling. And, if Ms. Bulova deserves some criticism for not anticipating the downturn, then she also deserves some credit for overseeing a long period of robust growth
In fact, Bulova has been a highly competent chair of the Budget Committee. She was first elected to the Board of Supervisors in 1987. In that time, her accomplishments include serving as chairman of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission, where she has been a member since 1988. She helped bring the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) to Fairfax. Mark Warner appointed her to the Governor’s Commission on Rail Enhancement in 2004. As a member and former chair of the Northern Virginia Regional Commission and member of the Council of Government, she has been involved in finding regional solutions to quality of life and economic development issues facing Fairfax and the entire metropolitan region.

As the Washington Post endorsement also notes, Sharon is a consensus builder. She is the type of moderate, business oriented, leader who has managed, over a span of more than 20 years, to work with members of the business community, environmentalists, labor leaders, and Fairfax residents to create one of the best communities in the region in which to live.

Pat Herrity, meanwhile, is an abrasive ideologue who has been in office since 2007 and so far has a slim record of accomplishment. That’s not to say he won’t be an effective leader someday. But right now is neither the time nor the place to “shake things up.” That’s only because the problems Fairfax is facing are caused by the same economic crisis that is roiling every municipality in the nation. And the truth is Fairfax is in far better shape than most of its neighbors, regardless of the party affiliations of their leaders, because Fairfax has had good stewards.

Republicans want to claim that Sharon has not shown substance because she doesn’t have a laundry list of ideas on her website. She doesn’t need them. She has years of accomplishment. Meanwhile, Herrity has a website full of radical ideas, most of which are bad ones that have already failed elsewhere. For me there’s only one choice. And it’s a substantive one.

On Tuesday, February 3 – that’s next Tuesday – make sure you vote for Sharon Bulova if you live in Fairfax County.


VA Blogger said...

Since you are gracious enough to post comments on my blog, I thought I'd return the favor.

First and foremost, Fairfax County is by no means "in better shape" than the surrounding localities. In fact, the exact opposite of that is true. Our shortfall is larger than the shortfall of all the surrounding counties combined, and it makes up a larger percentage of our total budget than the surrounding counties.

You give absolutely no basis for your statement, which means I can only conclude you have no basis for it.

Because of this, its pure folly to say that the economy is the sole problem. Is it a factor? Of course, and no one has said otherwise. But we could have been much better prepared, and we weren't because Sharon Bulova wasn't up to the task. We could have:

1) Not egregiously overspent, expanding the budget by a billion dollars in the past decade, which means that we're now resorting to drastic service cuts, and

2) Better prepared for any downturn in the economy by having a better maintained rainy day fund. Currently, our unmanaged reserves ranks AT, not near, AT the bottom of all AAA-bond rated Counties in the country.

And we're supposed to trust her guidance to get us out of this?

It befuddles me (unless you were cleverly being sarcastic) that the title of your post is "A Candidate of Substance". No one is asking that Sharon Bulova have a laundry list of ideas or a plan of action as thorough and detailed as Pat Herrity. We're simply asking that she provide ANY amount of substance.

She's been budget chairman for 17 years, and she can't name a single item in the budget that can be cut? She's been budget chairman for 17 years, and she can't name a single way to raise revenue? She is either abysmally incompetent, which I'd like to believe isn't true, or she doesn't believe the voters deserve to be in the know.

I appreciate your desire to defend your candidate; I can't say I'm in any position to criticize you on that front. But if you're going to come to the table and say that Bulova is a candidate of substance, at least have something, anything to show for it. Otherwise, you're just playing a cruel joke on those who are genuinely looking for any discussion from Bulova about the serious challenges she agrees the County faces.

Finally, I'm offering you a chance to redeem yourself, lest you come off as unsubstantive as Bulova:

You claim Herrity's site is full of "radical" ideas, that are "bad" and have already failed elsewhere. Would you care to elaborate on that, and offer some specifics?

Is it his propsal to promote government transparency that is a bad idea? To prioritize environmental projects? Is it his opposition to a bloated school administration that you find fault with? Perhaps you don't like Telework and mass transit, or believe the I-66 corridor doesn't have any traffic issues? I'm actually pretty curious about this one.

I look forward to your response.

AnonymousIsAWoman said...

First of all, I do consider it gracious of you to comment on my blog, especially since you do so by providing facts and rational arguments, not ad hominem attacks.

As for your points, I'll try to answer at least some of them. To start with, I thought I had substance. I chose to focus on Sharon's record of community involvement and accomplishment. In the interest of brevity - it was a 900+ word post - I limited myself to what I thought were my most effective arguments for Sharon. Of course, I could have said more. But I've been told I overwrite. Of course, I've also been told I talk to much :)

As for your actual points. Here goes:

I think the economic crisis is the major reason for the shortfall in all the counties and municipalities. Most localities get their revenue stream from property and sales taxes. Housing values have been in a free fall and mortgage defaults have further reduced that source of funding. And spending on shopping and restaurants is way down - hence the sharp reduction in income from the sales tax.

As for your point that Sharon should have foreseen the budget shortfall sooner and planned better, well let's see how business did on that point (since Republicans love using business success as their model for governing)

There are waves of retail companies going out of business and others cutting way back. Just yesterday one of the strongest manufacturing companies, Caterpillar, announced thousands of layoffs, as did Sprint-Nextel.

Are they to blame for not foreseeing the economic climate and being better at managing their resources and reducing costs earlier? Were they to blame for the fact that customers have been cutting back because of the economic meltdown?

Nobody saw this coming. Nobody was prepared.

I suspect what you and Mr. Herrity see as wasteful spending, I would see as useful investment, so I suspect we wouldn't agree on whether the BOS was really wasteful or not. Here's one example.

Pat Herrity has criticized Fairfax County for its subsidized housing program. I support it and I support the plan for workforce housing. Our region has a big problem with affordable housing and when first responders, teachers, and other county workers can't afford to live in the place where they work, that's a problem.

Further, buying up homes where the owners have defaulted on their mortgages saves us from a host of social problems such as squatters turning vacant homes into shooting galleries and crack houses. That hurts the property values, already plunging, of neighbors. It can destroy whole neighborhoods.

Mr. Herrity said, in the Washington Post, that he preferred to let the market take care of the problem. To me, it's painfully obvious that the market, right now, cannot do that. I think that's a temporary crisis situation. Once the markets are restored to health, the situation might change. But for now, without government intervention to buy these homes, make them affordable to county workers, and keep them from being vacant, more social problems and higher crimes rates would occur.

Pat Herrity also opposed rail to Dulles. I think he had some valid objections. I would have preferred the tunnel and I didn't like the no-bid contracts. But ultimately, the project is needed and he was an obstructionist on it.

Those are some of my objections to him. I think he's rough aroud the edges, needs more experience, and has some ideas I disagree with.

Sharon, on the other hand, is not perfect. But she's a consensus builder who can work well across party lines and with disparate groups. I am forever grateful for her efforts on behalf of VRE and other transportation projects.

I do agree that both candidates should say what they will cut from the budget. But other than that, I feel Sharon is the better candidate and her substance is in her experience and her accomplishments.