“No,” “no,” “no,” “no,” “no.” And for good measure, one more “no,” too.
The Arlington County Republican Committee on Sept. 27 voted to oppose the six county bond referendums, totaling approximately a half-billion-with-a-b dollars, on the Nov. 8 ballot.
(It might be called a “double Thatcher” rejection; the one-time British Prime Minister famously roared “no, no, no” in 1990 to those who thought greater integration of the United Kingdom into Europe was a good idea.)
“We have drawn a line in the sand,” said party communications chair Matthew Hurtt after the vote, saying that while the GOP might support some of the projects included in bonds, the package was excessive and would impact taxpayers down the road with higher property taxes.
His comments were amplified by party chair Lori Urban.
“If Republicans don’t stand for no new taxes, we stand for nothing,” Urban said. “When it comes to no new taxes, I’m fine with being the party of ‘no.’” (Being a mother, she said, she’s used to having to use that word.)
The 2022 decision represents a shift from 2021. Despite a desire of many of the rank-and-file to come out against last year’s bond package, the party last year opted to remain neutral.
Its reasoning (only tacitly acknowledged): The party was trying to court moderate voters who could be swayed to the Republican ticket for governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general, and railing against a sure-to-pass bond package would only have alienated those voters.
The gambit essentially worked: Republicans Glenn Youngkin, Winsome Sears and Jason Miyares only received about a quarter of Arlington’s votes, but every one of them counted in a tight race against Democrats for the three statewide offices. In the end, Republicans narrowly won all three spots.
Being the party of no is worrisome to longtime activist Sue Gartner, who ended up being the lone vote to support the 2022 county parks bonds.
“We’re always against everything,” she said. “We ought to do something to change that. We want our committee to count.”
The parks bond and a stormwater bond each picked up one vote in support during the GOP meeting. The other four bonds – for transportation, community infrastructure, schools and utilities – all were opposed unanimously.
The Republican leadership acknowledged that opposition, which will be included (with an explanation) on the GOP sample ballot handed out to voters, was unlikely to change the dynamics of longstanding tradition.
Arlington voters have not turned down a county bond since 1979, and the last time there was a blanket rejection of the majority of a bond package was in 1975.
Mark Kelly, a former Arlington and 8th Congressional District Republican chairman who also ran for County Board some years back, acknowledged that some pieces of the bond package – such as stormwater – address a real need. But he argued that County Board members use the bonds as a crutch.
“About half the stuff” in bond packages probably should be in the budget instead, Kelly said, but “they will bond out [items] because the bonds will pass.”
The Arlington County Democratic Committee earlier this year voted to support all six bonds. The Arlington Green Party is slated to take up the matter on Oct. 5.
Under long-standing Arlington government policy, total debt service on municipal bonds can rise no higher than 10 percent of the total budget in any given year. Arlington officials say this helps to retain Arlington’s coveted AAA ratings from multiple bond-rating firms.
In order to keep under that ceiling, if just barely, County Board members over the past two years have opted against following other local governments in reducing real-estate tax rates in the wake of spiking home values. The result has been an increasing tax bill for county homeowners, designed at least in part to prop up the large bond package that County Board members this year have sent to voters.
And with interest rates now spiking, something is going to have to give. County leaders will either have to scale back capital plans; continue to sock homeowners with higher tax burdens; or be willing to possibly lose the AAA bond ratings.
The package includes (rounded to the nearest hundred-thousandth):
• $22.5 million for parks.
• $53.3 million for community infrastructure.
• $52.6 million for Metro and transportation.
• $165 million for schools.
• $39.8 million for stormwater.
• $177.4 million for utilities.