Beware of politicians offering “examples”

After denouncing concerned parents as engaging in “scare tactics” for having the audacity to ask the all-Republican Loudoun Board of Supervisors to fully fund the school budget, the all-Republican Loudoun Board of Supervisors has been busy rolling out its own scare tactics — ominously warning of the crippling tax burden this would impose on the struggling, hard-working property owners in the wealthiest county in the nation.

Last week Supervisor Suzanne Volpe (R-Algonkian), once again making an impressive bid to open an unchallengeable lead in the race for the coveted Dumbest Supervisor Award, sent out one of her “news[sic]letters” full of numerology purporting to show how very, very bad it will be to actually pay what it will actually cost to cover the additional 2,400 students who will be added to the rolls of the public schools next year.

Here is what Volpe said:

“Let me give you an example from the Algonkian District. Sugarland Run Townhouses saw an increase in their assessments of 18.6%.  This means that at the equalized tax rate of $1.15.5, the owners of townhouses in Sugarland Run will see an increase in their tax burden of approximately 22%. For clarity, if their property tax bill was $3,000 last year, then their tax bill this year would be $3,432.  If you were to look at this same scenario at the existing tax rate of $1.20.5 (which would include fully funding the school budget), the Sugarland Run townhouse owner would have an increased tax bill of $3,558.”

Nice try!

What Volpe in fact did was pick one small neighborhood that happened to have one of the highest increases in assessed value this year. The “equalized” tax rate is the rate that will keep the average tax bill unchanged: since county-wide assessments increased by an average of 4.19 percent from last year, the current tax rate of 1.205 would be reduced to 1.155 under the “equalized” rate — a 4.19 percent decrease — to exactly offset that and keep the average tax bill constant.

Picking one neighborhood that saw an 18.6 percent increase in assessments is a fine definition of “scare tactics,” since on average across the county the increase in the tax bill will by definition be zero under the equalized rate.

The important point in any case though is that the difference between the rate the supervisors want to impose so they can boast of their fealty to the Republican anti-tax credo, and the rate needed to actually fund the school budget without cuts, amounts to an extra $126 for Volpe’s hypothetical struggling townhouse owner. (Was it just her usual illiteracy or a more deliberate attempt to mislead, by the way, the prompted Volpe to describe the impact of fully funding the school budget as “an increased tax bill of $3,558” for this hypothetical struggling townhouse owner, when in fact she meant that this home’s tax bill would increase to $3,558 — an increase of only $126?)

The whole point of property tax, by the way, is that it is a tax on wealth: if your property is really worth more, then you do pay more tax, because you the owner have become wealthier due to that gain in value, a gain you will be the sole beneficiary of when you sell your property. So to cry crocodile tears over how unfair it is that the people in her district will be paying more because their homes are worth a lot more now is a bit missing the point.

In any event, the parents who have been boldly speaking out against the Board’s mindless budget slashing have made it abundantly clear that they think spending an extra $100 to avoid reducing the quality of education and increasing classroom size is money well spent. But this Board has a well-established track record of not only ignoring, but belittling, the concerns of actual citizens, and listening instead only to (a) the wackos who run the Loudoun County Republican Committee and (b) the very generous campaign donors from the commercial real estate industry who backed their campaigns to the tune of a half million bucks.


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