Barring a last-minute deal that has eluded President Obama and Congress for more than two years, sequestration will go into effect Friday. Fairfax County -- home to a large number of federal workers and defense contractors -- will be hit particularly hard.
With this financial Sword of Damocles hanging over their heads, one would expect local officials to look for ways to cut spending. Not Fairfax County Executive Ed Long. His proposed FY 2014-15 budget calls for $500 million more than last year. It also includes a residential property tax hike that adds 2 cents in tax to every $100 of assessed valuation -- on top of the extra half-cent imposed last year.
Under the circumstances, another property tax hike is completely unwarranted. As the Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance points out, residential taxes have doubled since 2000, outpacing inflation by $1,430 per household. In 2008, the year the housing bubble burst, Fairfax's tax rate was 89 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, and the median home price was $542,409. Last year, the tax rate was up to $1.075, even though the median price of a home had dramatically decreased. Under the new proposal, Fairfax homeowners would pay 25 percent higher taxes than in 2008 on homes whose median value has declined by nearly $100,000.
Rising property taxes increase monthly housing costs. They price out potential buyers in a still-weak housing market. Factoring in the uncertainties of sequestration, it's simply irresponsible.
Long's idea of "austerity" means limiting county employees to one raise per year instead of two and trimming just $20.5 million in spending from a $7 billion multiyear budget -- mostly for services that taxpayers actually use, like parks and libraries. He eliminates 12 currently filled jobs in a county workforce of 12,000 for a miniscule reduction in labor costs, even though the county's overstaffing is one of the main drivers of its budget deficits. And Long increases the subsidy to the county's public schools, which already receive more than half of all county revenue, by an additional 2 percent.
And the county budget still includes "affordable housing" subsidies for people making more than $100,000 annually. Meanwhile, Long's residential tax hike proposal would make housing less affordable for everyone in Fairfax County not receiving those subsidies, including low-income workers and seniors on fixed incomes, during an unparalleled time of economic uncertainty.
That's why the only sensible response was already uttered by Supervisor Pat Herrity, R-Springfield: "The proposed tax increase should be DOA."