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Tuesday, December 7, 2021
ArlingtonDemocrats back bond issues; GOP, Greens still to decide

Democrats back bond issues; GOP, Greens still to decide

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The Arlington County Democratic Committee has weighed in on the four bond referendums heading to county voters on Nov. 2, and the possibility exists that other civic and political organizations will, as well.

The Democratic rank-and-file in early August voted to support all four bonds on the local ballot:

• $38.7 million for transportation and Metro.
• $23.01 million for schools.
• $17.035 million for community infrastructure.
• $6.8 million for local parks and recreation.

The action was not exactly breaking news; Arlington Democrats for two generations (at least) have supported bond referendums on the ballot.
As for the Arlington County Republican Committee, a vote may be forthcoming.

“We have not taken a position on bonds yet, but we may bring it up at the September meeting,” said Matthew Hurtt, the local GOP’s communications director.

Republicans over recent decades have supported some referendums, opposed others and remained on the sidelines at other times.

The Arlington Green Party also has yet to weigh in, but “we will discuss this issue at our October meeting the first week of that month,” party chair John Reeder told the Sun Gazette.

Like the GOP, the Greens in recent years have supported some bonds, opposed others and taken no position on others.

The Arlington County Civic Federation also could weigh in on the bond package, either in total or in piecemeal fashion, before Election Day arrives. So, too, may other groups and media organizations.

Arlington County Board members on July 20 formally requested the placement of four local-bond referendums on the Nov. 2 ballot, a request that was approved by Circuit Court Chief Judge William Newman Jr.

For approaching two generations, Arlington officials have sent bond referendums to voters in even-numbered years, the theory being that higher turnout for presidential and congressional elections would help ensure passage. (It has worked: No bond referendum has been turned down by the county electorate since the late 1970s.)

Last year, however, with the full brunt of the pandemic hitting and with county-government leaders unsure of the fiscal impact of the subsequent economic downturn, voters were sent a downscaled package of bond items – which were dutifully passed – with a promise of a similar restrained package in 2021. If all goes as planned, the every-other-year routine will resume in 2022.

Bond referendums do have an impact on the county government’s bottom line, and a wave of capital spending of the past two decades (much of it to address the community’s growth spurt and aging infrastructure) has sent the county government’s general-obligation debt higher.

For the fiscal year that began July 1, government officials expect to pay $127.9 million – or about $550 for every county resident – in debt service. That figure is anticipated to grow to $138.6 million in the next fiscal year.

To date, Arlington has been able to keep its debt-service costs to less than 10 percent of its overall budget, something that is key to maintaining its (to date sacrocanct) AAA bond ratings. But with the prospect of looming interest-rate hikes that will impact even blue-chip borrowers like Arlington, there could be challenges ahead.

If borrowing costs rise substantially, Arlington officials would have a number of unappetizing options, including restraining new capital spending; continuing to impose higher tax burdens on property owners to keep the debt level below 10 percent of all revenue piling in; or by exceeding the 10-percent cap and putting the AAA bond ratings in jeopardy.

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