October 5, 2015

CLAIMS vs TRUTH

Republican Claim Truth in Alexandria
Claim: Republican Monique Miles has stated that Alexandria spends 10% of its budget on debt, while Arlington only spends 4%. She has also stated that Alexandria spends $65 million on debt service out of a $650 million general fund  compared to Arlington spending $61.5 million on debt service out of a $1.15 billion general fund.   Truth: These figures are simply wrong. The  approved FY2016 Alexandria budget includes a $649.2 million general fund with $65.7 million of debt service (10%) and the approved FY2016 Arlington budget includes a $698.4 million general fund with $59.9 million of debt service (8.5%). However, these are the wrong metrics. The important metric is debt as a percentage of the assessed value of real estate. Virginia limits the percentage to 10%, but Alexandria has a stricter limit of 1.6%. In fact, the percentage in this year’s capital budget approved by the Council is 1.31%, the lowest in Northern Virginia.
Claim: In the most recent candidate forum, Republican candidate Bob Wood claimed that he has never criticized Alexandria’s debt. Truth: In his own submission to Alexandria News, Bob Wood said: “Our city debts rapidly mount while deferred costs in infrastructure go unaddressed or minimally considered.…The city can no longer afford an investment strategy of Borrow, Build, and Hope….”
 Claim: In response to the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee (BPAC) candidate questionnaire, Republican candidate Monique Miles referred to Capital Bikeshare as a “bike rental company” that receives City subsidies and Townsend Van Fleet referred to Capital Bike Share as a “money-making corporation” and said he would not spend any City funds on it. Truth: They’re both wrong. Capital Bikeshare is a public entity, owned by the District of Columbia, Arlington County, Montgomery County, and Alexandria. Capital Bikeshare is operated by Motivate, a Brooklyn, NY-based company that operates several other bikesharing systems including Citibike in New York City, Hubway in Boston and Divvy Bikes in Chicago. Paying a private sector operator is a similar approach taken to many public transit systems.
Claim: Republican Townsend Van Fleet has criticized the City Council for tax abatements for the National Science Foundation and the Transportation Security Administration to move to Alexandria. Truth: Van Fleet can’t have it both ways. On the one hand he has said that the NSF and TSA moves to Alexandria have reduced the commercial vacancy rate but bemoans the incentives that brought them here. The truth is that the presence of NSF and TSA will create jobs and spur new small business development in the area.
Claim: Republican candidate Monique Miles distributed literature with wildly misleading and false claims on a number of topics. For instance, her campaign literature claims the City Council built a fire station but did not pay for a fire crew. Truth: This is false. Fire Station 210 opened upon its completion in Spring 2015, and was immediately staffed with an EMS crew to bring emergency medical services closer to West End residents.  Fire protection services were not immediately added due to a surprisingly high number of retirements within the fire department in 2014, requiring additional resources for the recruitment and training of new personnel.  The City Council worked closely with the Fire Chief to ensure that resources were available to meet these unexpected needs, and fire protection services are scheduled to be fully operational by the end of the year.  
Claim: Republican candidate Monique Miles also targets the City Council in her campaign literature claiming that the City Council engaged in expensive lawsuits against private businesses to transfer property to developers through eminent domain. Truth: The City Council has worked to create an Alexandria waterfront that is contiguous and that everyone, both residents and visitors to the City, can enjoy. The City Council worked closely with the Old Dominion Boat Club (ODBC) to reach a negotiated agreement securing the ODBC with a new site along the river with more piers, boat slips, and a flood-proof facility. Ultimately, the members of the ODBC voted from different options on whether to stay in place or move to a new location.
Claim: Republican candidates Townsend Van Fleet and Monique Miles have criticized this City Council for excessive debt, saying “This council has put us a half billion dollars in debt.”  Truth: Alexandria enjoys membership in an elite class of jurisdictions holding a AAA/Aaa bond rating from Standard and Poor (S&P) and Moody’s, which have called the City’s financial outlook “stable” “due to proactive management, sound financial policies and continued tax base growth and diversification.” The City’s debt is a result of vital investments in infrastructure that will continue to grow Alexandria’s economy and attract businesses and residents. As the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities stated: “There are sound reasons that states and localities borrow to pay for infrastructure, rather than use annual tax collections and other revenues.” “Public buildings, roads and bridges are used for decades but entail large upfront costs; borrowing enables them to spread out those costs.” As Councilman Tim Lovain has stated, if you are going to complain about the debt, you need to identify what investments you would not have made. However, in a show of fiscal responsibility, the current City Council proposed and adopted a new “cash capital” funding policy last year to ensure that during difficult budget times, debt is not used as an escape valve to avoid tough choices. 
Claim: Republican candidate Monique Miles has refused to answer questions about her stance on immigration, given her previous employment at IRLI, an extreme anti-immigration organization. When asked about how she would treat the children of undocumented immigrants (given IRLI’s criticism of the DREAM Act and DACA), Ms. Miles stated that immigration is a federal issue and she would not have jurisdiction over immigration as a member of the City Council. Truth: Immigration is a local issue according to IRLI’s own mission statement, which states, “IRLI exists to defend the rights of individual Americans and their local communities from the harms and challenges posed by mass migration to the United States, both lawful and unlawful.” This statement also shows the clear anti-immigration principles of the organization.

The Alexandria City Council passed a resolution in 2007 resolving that “beyond what is required by State and Federal law, the City and its various agencies will neither make inquiries about nor report on the citizenship of those who seek the protection of its laws or the use of its services.” Given Ms. Miles background, it is absolutely relevant whether she would seek to overturn this resolution and take into account a person’s immigration status when providing City services. In addition, Alexandrians deserve to know the values of candidates for City Council.

Claim: Republican candidate Townsend Van Fleet blamed the Council for the fact that Alexandria had 18000 affordable housing units 12 years ago and now has only 6000. Republican candidate Monique Miles has also claimed Alexandria has lost 12,000 affordable housing units and has failed to enforce the 1:1 ratio required by Resolution 830.  Truth: Republicans are repeatedly conflating affordable housing with public housing. Resolution 830, which requires public housing units that have been demolished to be replaced by an equal number of units. City Council has enforced this requirement. Affordable housing refers to privately owned market-rate units.The decline in numbers of affordable housing units has largely been because of rising property values and rents and the conversion of rental units to condominiums; not active removal of affordable housing by the City government or failure to enforce Resolution 830. Although the number of affordable housing units has decreased from the 18,000 that were available in 2000, and the City does have a need for more affordable housing, the characterization of this loss overlooks important efforts by this City Council. To combat this growing problem, the City Council adopted the City’s first Housing Master Plan in January 2014. The Master Plan recognized an anticipated gap of 14,000 affordable housing units by 2030. To this end, the City established a target of providing, preserving, or assisting 2,000 units from FY 2014 through FY 2025 through the implementation of the goals, strategies, and tools contained in this Housing Master Plan. 
Claim: Republican candidate Bob Wood accused councilors of failing to maintain enough affordable units in the Beauregard neighborhood’s redevelopment plan, alleging that affordable units were reduced by 86 percent. Truth: The redevelopment resulted in the temporary loss of 2,475 apartments rented mostly by those with low or medium incomes, with half of the existing units set to be demolished over the next 30 years and replaced by 5,000 new apartments, townhouses and condominiums. None of the existing units are dedicated affordable units, and rents in the units are not capped or governed by any affordability requirements. Property owners have the legal right to raise rents and demolish and rebuild the existing apartments and are not required to replace affordable housing or provide relocation assistance. However, in a win for affordable housing, the City was able to negotiate an agreement that 800 new or existing apartments will be made committed affordable units for the next 30 to 40 years; a major addition to the City’s affordable housing stock. One of the developers will also donate 100 existing affordable units and a $49.7 million contribution to fund long term committed affordable units. The developers will also provide relocation assistance for those who have to move. In addition, the predicted additional property tax revenue from the development could be used toward new affordable housing stock in the future.
Claim: Demonstrating a worrying lack of command of local issues, Republican candidate Monique Miles claimed that Alexandria spends $16 million per student and Fairfax spends $14 million per student. She has also alleged that Loudoun County’s schools are better run than Alexandria’s even though Loudoun County spends far less per student.  Truth:According to an annual comparison compiled by the staff of Fairfax County Public Schools for the regional association of school boards, the following is the per-student spending as of the end of 2014:

  • Arlington, $19,040, up 1.94 percent.
  • Falls Church, $17,109, up 0.69 percent.
  • Alexandria, $17,041, up 0.95 percent.
  • Montgomery County, $15,351, up 0.16 percent.
  • Fairfax County, $13,519, up 0.35 percent.
  • Prince George’s County, $12,902, up 11.58 percent.
  • Manassas City, $12,613, up 5.25 percent.
  • Loudoun County, $12,195, up 4.78 percent.
  • Manassas Park City, $10,836, up 6.52 percent.
  • Prince William County, $10,365, up 20.4 percent.

Comparing Alexandria’s per student cost with Loudoun County’s fails to take into account that Loudoun County does not have full-day kindergarten, the last jurisdiction in Northern Virginia not to have it. Moreover, cost drivers that are unique to Alexandria include staffing and support for free/reduced lunch, English Language Learners, and Special Education students, the percentages of which are much higher than most districts in Northern Virginia.

Claim: Independent candidate Phil Ceffaratti stated that Alexandria schools are ranked 94th in the state. Truth: There is no ranking of school districts in Virginia that lists Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) as 94th in Virginia. In fact, Mr. Ceffaratti’s own website lists ACPS as 33rd. In another ranking, ACPS is ranked 14th in Virginia.
Claim: Republican candidate Townsend Van Fleet has criticized the current Council for not having a plan to deal with capacity issues at elementary schools. Truth: The current Council has aggressively tackled school capacity issues. School systems across the region are experiencing high enrollment growth, and it is a testament to the faith that parents have in the Alexandria schools. The Council and School Board recently approved the Long Range Educational Facilities Plan, which provides a road-map for addressing capacity issues at elementary schools around the City. This Council has invested new resources each year aimed at addressing school capacity issues, including funding for a new Patrick Henry School.
Claim: Republican Monique Miles has said that residents of Potomac Yard are unreasonably shouldering the cost of development there, including the Metro. She has also claimed that the decision to build the Potomac Yard Metro station was made before funding was secured. Truth: Alexandria needs greater public transit options to keep cars off the road and bring greater economic development. The Potomac Yard Metro project is a financially viable project that has numerous funding mechanisms, including a Northern Virginia Transit Authority grant, a Virginia Transportation Infrastructure Bank loan, and developer contributions. Two special tax districts were set up in 2010 by City Council as one of many funding mechanisms, and this was disclosed to property owners in the community prior to purchase. City Council has yet to determine the final funding mix and what role special tax districts will play. With regard to the timing of the decision, the Council has not yet voted to issue a contract for construction of the Metro and the Northern Virginia Transit Authority has already approved the requested grant for the Metro station.
Claim: Republican Monique Miles has argued that the Potomac Yard Metro station was a “wish list” item, and the funds could have been used to fund sewers, EMS, schools, or other services. Truth: The Potomac Yard Metro is a critical project for the City’s economic future. None of the funding sources for the Metro–the developer contribution, the special tax district, the Virginia Transportation Infrastructure Bank loan, the tax increment, and the Northern Virginia Transit Authority grant–could be utilized for other City services.
Claim: Republican Townsend Van Fleet has claimed that the tax rate will go up 21 percent over the next five years. Truth: This claim is based on false assumptions that raising real estate taxes is the only means of balancing the budget. Other ways to balance the budget include expenditure reductions, new efficiencies, new revenues outside of real estate taxes, etc. As an example, in FY 2016, real estate taxes were not raised to fill budget gaps. In fact, Alexandria has the second lowest tax rate in Northern Virginia.
Claim: Republican candidate Townsend Van Fleet has said that Council has “failed to reconcile the imbalance of expenditures and revenues” and “overspent City revenues for the past 8 years consecutively.” Republican candidate Monique Miles has also said that Alexandria’s budget is scheduled to increase by 4% while revenue will only increase by 3% over the next five years.  Truth: The City’s charter requires a balanced budget every year and the Council has achieved that. Alexandria’s Five-Year Financial Plan projects expenditures to increase by an average of 4% annually over the next five years, while the increase in revenues over that period is expected to be approximately 3%. The Plan identifies the primary drivers of this increase are the City contribution to Alexandria City Public Schools, Capital Improvement Program (CIP)-related spending in the General Fund operating budget, and employee salary costs. Contrary to what Republicans have implied, the five-year plan is not itself a budget, but a planning tool to present policy options to address the imbalance in future budgets.
Claim: Republican candidates Monique Miles and Bob Wood have said nothing can be done about the minimum wage because of the Dillon Rule, which limits local authority on certain matters deemed to be the authority of the Commonwealth. Republican candidate Fernando Torrez has said increasing the minimum wage would hurt small businesses. Truth: While the Dillon rule keeps Alexandria from establishing a minimum wage for all employers, the City has established “living wage” requirements for City contractors and which apply to all public contracts for the provision of services on property owned or controlled by the City. The current living wage in Alexandria is $13.13/hour for one adult, almost double the Virginia and federal minimum wage of $7.25/hour.
Claim: Republican candidate Bob Wood criticized the Council for failing to attract businesses to Alexandria, claiming that “When I’ve talked with business owners, I’m not hearing that they find Alexandria to be a business-friendly climate.” Truth: The reality is that Alexandria has attracted businesses to the City, bringing in new jobs and diversifying its tax base. The current Council has achieved several significant economic development wins, including luring the U.S. Transportation Security Agency and the National Science Foundation to Alexandria. Combined, those two agencies bring 6,200 high-paying jobs to Alexandria, with considerable benefit to the remainder of Alexandria’s economy. These major additions to Alexandria will also attract small businesses in those areas. The Landmark, Beauregard, and Potomac Yard plans will also bring in new businesses and diversified tax revenue. King Street and Del Ray small businesses are also flourishing, with 82% of the shops and restaurants on King Street independently owned.
Claim: Republican candidate Townsend Van Fleet has criticized the City Council for the decision on BRAC 133 saying it was made “behind closed doors.” Truth: BRAC (Base Realignment and Closure) is the congressionally authorized process by which the DoD periodically reorganizes its military base structure to more efficiently and effectively support the armed forces, increase operational readiness, and facilitate new ways of doing business. BRAC 133 is the designation given to Alexandria’s Mark Center, the new location for the Washington Headquarters Service.This relocation is one component of the Department of Defense’s (DoD) reorganization of its military base structure. This was a DoD decision made with private developers and was not a Council decision. The City Council had no authority or ability to prevent or support this independent decision of the DoD and private developers. In fact, at the time, local and state elected leaders from Alexandria voiced concerns to the federal government about the relocation plan. In February of 2009, City Council passed a resolution establishing the BRAC-133 Advisory Group to serve as a forum for developing ideas and recommendations related to transportation improvements and other issues associated with the BRAC relocation at the Mark Center.
Claim: Republican candidates would have you believe that Alexandria is on a downward spiral with staggering debt, failing schools, and an inability to attract businesses. Truth: Alexandria is a great place to live with a vibrant downtown area and quality schools. It is home to award-winning restaurants, popular shops, and beautiful public parks. With smart development and investments in public services and infrastructure, including the Potomac Yard Metro, Alexandria will have an even brighter future. In fact, Alexandria has received a host of accolades in recent years and is nationally recognized as a great place to live, visit, and do business. A small sampling follows:

#1 – Mid-Sized City for Veterans (Military Times 2015)

#2 – Top 10 cities to retire (Bankrate.com)

#3 – The Best cities for millennials in 2015 (Forbes)

#4 – Top 20 most romantic cities in the U.S. (Amazon)

#4 – Most romantic cities (CBS News)

#5 – Most romantic city in the nation (Proflowers)

#6 – Top 10 downtowns for small- to mid-sized cities (Livability)

#13 – Top cities for women entrepreneurs to launch a business (GoodCall)

#56 – Best places to live (Livability)

Sources:

Chris Teale, “Potomac Yard Special Tax Districts Come Under Fire From Local Residents,” Alexandria Times, May 25, 2015, http://alextimes.com/2015/05/potomac-yard-special-tax-districts-come-under-fire-from-local-residents/.

Michael Neibauer, “Alexandria City Council picks a Potomac Yard Metro site,” Washington Business Journal, May 20, 2015, http://www.bizjournals.com/washington/breaking_ground/2015/05/alexandria-city-council-picks-a-potomac-yard-metro.html.

City of Alexandria FY 2016 Approved Budget, http://www.alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/budget/info/budget2016/FY%202016%20Operating%20Budget%20(Final)(1).pdf.

Beauregard Small Area Plan, //alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/BeauregardSAPAdoptedHousing.pdf

Alexandria Housing Master Plan, https://alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/housing/info/Housing%20Master%20Plan%20Final.pdf

Northern Virginia Association of Realtors, Real Estate Property Taxes, https://nvar.com/real-estate-tax-rates/nvar-law-ethics-portal/legal-knowledgebase/real-estate-laws/real-estate-property-tax-rates

“Arlington per-student spending again tops the region,” http://www.insidenova.com/news/arlington/arlington-per-student-spending-again-tops-the-region/article_aec435ec-6e4d-11e4-993c-635d5ab85d84.html

Moriah Balingit, “Class sizes, teacher salaries and per-student spending: How D.C.-area schools stack up,” The Washington Post, January 7, 2015, https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/local/wp/2015/01/07/class-sizes-and-per-student-spending-how-d-c-area-schools-stack-up/

The Washington Area Boards of Education, “FY 2015 WABE Guide,” http://www.fcps.edu/fs/budget/wabe/2015.pdf

“City of Alexandria Earns Low Interest Rates on Bonds After AAA Ratings are Reaffirmed,” City of Alexandria, July 29, 2015, https://alexandriava.gov/news_display.aspx?id=86352.

Alexandria City Council Adopts Living Wage Ordinance, https://alexandriava.gov/purchasing/info/default.aspx?id=2112.  

City of Alexandria, “Alexandria City Council Adopts Fiscal Year 2016 Budget,” May 7, 2015, http://www.alexandriava.gov/news_display.aspx?id=84667.

City of Arlington, “FY 2016 Adopted Budget,” http://arlingtonva.s3.amazonaws.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/18/2015/06/FY16A_Final-All-in-One-Adopted-File.pdf

City of Alexandria, “Consideration of a Resolution on Immigration Status,” http://dockets.alexandriava.gov/fy08/100907rm/di21.pdf

City of Alexandria, “Base Realignment and Closure,” http://alexandriava.gov/tes/brac/default.aspx?id=50558. 

Fred A. Bernstein, “The Defense Department in Their Midst,” The New York Times, December 6, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/12/07/realestate/commercial/a-defense-dept-complex-in-virginia-raises-safety-concerns.html?_r=0.

About Capital Bikeshare, https://www.capitalbikeshare.com/about.

For a full list of Alexandria’s awards and accolades, see http://alexecon.org/alexandria-ideal/why-alexandria/awards-accolades, http://bestforvets.militarytimes.com/best-places/2015/june/medium/, and https://alexandriava.gov/Awards.