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Thursday, December 8, 2022
ArlingtonOpinionEditorial: Bond passage will come at a cost

Editorial: Bond passage will come at a cost

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It was back during the White House occupancy of Jimmy Carter (!!) that Arlington voters last turned down a local bond referendum, and we have every expectation that the six-referendum packaging totaling approximately a half-billion dollars will win easy passage on Nov. 8.

After all, bonds are “free money.” Right?

We’re not going to suggest that the Arlington electorate reject the bond package, which will fund capital spending on everything from schools to transportation to environmental projects. But we believe local voters deserve a full accounting of the consequences of a “yes” vote – something they will not get from leaders.

Passage of the bonds will add to a total debt level of the Arlington government that already tiptoes right up to the self-imposed limit designed by local leaders to ensure retention of the government’s AAA ratings for general-obligation debt. In other words, the credit card is almost maxed out, even without taking into consideration the influence of a rising-interest-rate environment.

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But as residents found earlier this year, that increasing debt load has a collateral impact. In order for the county government to avoiding blasting past its debt limit, which mandates debt service be no more than 10 percent of the government’s revenues, those revenues have to be propped up, often artificially. Which is why, almost uniquely among Northern Virginia jurisdictions this spring, Arlington’s elected County Board refused to shave even a penny off the existing tax rate, despite home assessments that had skyrocketed. They didn’t do it because they couldn’t do it; any reduction in real-estate revenue would upset the county’s capital-spending plans.

Throw in declining assessments on office buildings, retail structures and malls, and the tax burden is falling more and more on homeowners. And at least in the short term, there’s no plan in place to break this cycle. Dig deep, owners of residential property, because you will get socked again in 2023, and who knows how many years after that?

By themselves, these alone are not reasons to reject any or all of the bond referendums on the Nov. 8 ballot. Heck, sometimes we think Arlington residents get a masochistic kick out of being taxed at such an exorbitant – nay, extortionate – level. So have at it, Arlington. Vote “yes.”

But neither government leaders, nor the voters who provide the funding, should think for one minute that there isn’t an impact when it comes to accumulating hundreds of millions of dollars of debt on top of the already mountainous pile.

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