Fairfax develops legal battle with state

There’s a fight brewing between Prince William County’s neighbor to the north and the commonwealth.

As Fairfax County glances across the Occoquan River, it sees Prince William, with its $500 million budget and nearly 60,000 students, about to receive $15 million in free money from Virginia government it will use to give its teachers a 7 percent raise and continue its steady pace of school construction.

Meanwhile, Fairfax County finds itself with a $1.6 billion budget and 160,000 students. It will see its state aid drop by $34 million next year.

For Fairfax, that drop in state revenue is the sounding of the bell — and the gloves are coming off.

“I personally think we’ve been complaining about it long enough. We should be doing something about it,” said Fairfax Supervisor Sharon Bulova, D-Braddock District, who on Monday told reporters that Fairfax will look into its legal options at the state or federal level to increase its education aid from the Old Dominion.

She said the Virginia Constitution requires it pay 55 percent of basic education needs, known as the Standards of Quality, but for the state to meet that commitment to Fairfax, the county would have to get $88 million more a year.

Fairfax also is not fully reimbursed by the state for its military families, for which the federal government pays impact aid to offset education costs for their children, she said. Fairfax is receiving $50 million less impact aid than it should from the state, she said.

“Fairfax is actively examining all of its options to insist the state step up to its responsibilities,” said Fairfax Supervisor Gerald Connolly, D-Providence District. “In Prince William, the county only pays for 38 percent of the cost [of its schools],” he said.

State aid to Fairfax and Prince William is based on composite indexes, a distribution formula that sends money to less affluent areas.

Both systems have proposed budgets for next year to grow by 13 percent, which for Fairfax translates to $136 million more and for Prince William $69 million.

Prince William’s elected officials sought revenues from Richmond this year for transportation only, while Fairfax representatives said any transportation-funding bill had to be linked to proposed legislation generating education dollars.

Bulova said the stand of the Fairfax County board is actually for a half-cent ballot question for schools and also for transportation — the questions do not need to be linked nor both done in the same year.

“Personally, I would take half a loaf and try again next year,” Bulova said. She was referring to the possibility that Gov. Mark R. Warner would amend the Hampton Roads referendum bill to include the $3.3 billion transportation bill sponsored by Prince William Delegate John A. “Jack” Rollison, R-52nd District. Bulova’s opinion goes against that of Springfield Sen. Richard Saslaw, D-35th District, who has adamantly opposed referenda without an education aspect.

Connolly said school advocates in Fairfax won’t accept just a referendum that neglects education because their school system is denied help while it is $660 million short for renovations and new facilities over the next five years.

That objection would pair Democrats with Republicans in a fight over a referendum this fall.

“Whichever one [Warner] comes up with, we are going to kill it. It’s going to be crushed,” said James Parmelee, chairman of the Republicans United for Tax Relief, which is affiliated with the Prince William Taxpayers Alliance anti-tax group. “We may be arm in arm with Dick Saslaw and friends.”

Similar Posts