Budgetary Profiles In Courage

It’s always a good idea, when you’re planning to do something like take an axe to the school budget, to arrange things so that you don’t have to suffer the embarrassment of facing an angry public, which was what our very media-savvy all-Republican Loudoun Board of Supervisors did last week, neatly scheduling their final vote on the county budget to take place before the 6 pm public comment period.

Adding to that bit of political stage management was the usual budgetary buffoonery and political gamesmanship that this Board is making their trademark. For a while it looked like the Board, having adopted the $1.8 billion budget by a vote of 5–3, would be unable to muster a majority to adopt the $1.205 property tax rate that was the direct mathematical consequence of the budget figure they had just approved. How’s that for businesslike leadership and responsibility? The notable swing vote was the ever logically consistent Ken Reid (R-Leesburg), who joined anti-tax grandstanders Ralph Buona (R-Ashburn), Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian), and Eugene Delgaudio (R-Sterling, until they get him). Reid had the distinction of personally voting for the budget and then against the tax rate to pay for it. Brilliant. Brilliant, and craven.

Finally, Buona offered to abstain on the tax-rate vote, and it passed 4–3. What a way to run a government — but a direct consequence of the utter irresponsibility of the whole political posturing that led up to that bit of theater.

In fact, the approximately $20 million shortfall the schools were left with — even as they add some 2,500 students next year — was an equal bit of political buffoonery and showboating. It was based on no analysis, no identified programs or line items to cut, no admission of even responsibility for the consequences. It was a completely arbitrary figure, plucked out of thin air with the sole objective  of producing a nominally reduced tax rate (though actual tax payments will increase, since assessed values are up — another bit of smoke and mirrors, and you can guarantee these guys will be boasting how they “lowered the tax rate” when in fact they raised taxes).

In place of any analysis or offering a single specific real example of what the schools will have to eliminate to produce those savings, the supes retreated into that old standby of politicians, claiming that there was (never specified) “waste” in the school budget. This was then buttressed with an orchestrated spin campaign in which the Idiot Wing of the local GOP Party Committee wrote letters to the editor full of marvelous and wondrous “facts,” such as school bus drivers getting paid $50 an hour. (In fact, Loudoun’s total school costs per pupil are far lower than any other district’s in the DC metro area and teachers’ real salaries in Loudoun are lower than they were 20 years ago.)

It’s worth saying again: these guys are always boasting about how they are bringing “business” values to running government. But anyone who ran a business like this —  refusing to even take responsibility to pay for the expenditures they themselves approved, and failing to do the most basic analysis of programs and line items — would be fired in a heartbeat.

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