Huge Costs Coming Could Overwhelm Local Jurisdictions
Looking ahead to a looming, massive increase in the cost to local jurisdictions of funding the Virginia Retirement System, both the Falls Church City Council and the Falls Church School Board adopted strongly-worded forwarded statements this week to the Virginia State Legislature as it prepares for the launch of its next general session in early January.
The state budget process will begin with a “state of the state” address by Gov. McDonnell on Monday, and local lawmakers say they’re not optimistic that Richmond will have much to offer Falls Church or other localities this round.
State Sen. Dick Saslaw and State Del. Jim Scott appeared before the Falls Church City Council Monday to receive the City’s legislative wish list, and also to bring grim news about what to expect from Richmond the next few months.
Saslaw was particularly gloomy, noting that Gov. McDonnell, a Republican, has thrown his support to a $1.4 billion southside toll road on the Route 460 corridor connecting Prince George and Suffolk Counties while ignoring more pressing transportation issues in Northern Virginia.
He noted that 12,000 cars travel the Route 460 route a day, compared to the 87,000 a day that are crammed onto Braddock Road in Fairfax County.
“I wish I had better news,” Saslaw told the City Council, stressing in particular that any progress on gun control was out of the question in the heavy-tilted (64 to 32 in the House) Republican legislature.
“The legislature is not going to give you a whole lot of help,” Del. Scott added.
Asked by Councilman Ira Kaylin about chances that Richmond will accept a greater burden for funding the Virginia Retirement System (VRS), Saslaw said that Richmond will not give, but “will ask for meaningful amounts for everything.”
Echoing Kaylin’s concern for the VRS balloon payment coming in the next couple of years was Lilla Wise, speaking to the F.C. School Board Tuesday night. Wise, who represents the school boards of Falls Church, Alexandria and Arlington as their legislative liaison in Richmond, confirmed that, without a legislative change, a 20 percent jump is coming in a couple of years in terms of what localities will be required to pay to maintain the solvency of the VRS.
Tentatively adopting its legislative agenda Tuesday night, the School Board noted about the VRS issue, “By continuing to pass employer contribution increase to municipalities for Commonwealth has put at risk the financial sustainability of many communities and, consequently, the VRS itself.” The complete School Board statement reflected almost verbatim the paragraph included in the City Council’s legislative agenda document. It reads as follows:
“We recognize that increases in VRS rates are required to retain the soundness of the system and recommend a long-term plan that would minimize the fluctuations that occur from year to year. We request that a plan be implemented to ensure the sustainability of VRS and its benefit for public employees. The Commonwealth should be responsible for paying some fixed portion of the VRS Trustee determined employer share and localities should not be asked to bear an increased share of VRS costs now or in the future due to the Commonwealth’s unwillingness to properly fund the VRS. By continuing to pass employer contribution increases to municipalities the Commonwealth has put at risk the financial sustainability of many communities and, consequently, the VRS itself.”
While expressing caution about state mandates, the School Board decided to take a wait-and-see approach about any new legislation that may be passed on anti-bullying measures. It was noted that State Sen. Barbara Favola (D-Arlington) has plans to introduce an anti-bullying bill targeting “cyber-bullying” in particular.
Favola was present, along with Saslaw, Scott and Wise, at an annual pre-legislative breakfast of the school boards of Alexandria, Arlington and Falls Church Tuesday morning.
The only civil or human rights requests in the City Council’s legislative package concerned support for any bills that might be introduced prohibiting discrimination on the source of income in housing, something that a number of states have added to their Fair Housing Act provisions in recent years.
Falls Church Assistant City Manager Cindy Mester, who coordinated the compilation of this year’s legislative package for the City Council, said that recent years’ efforts to include equal rights provisions based on sexual orientation had been due to the initiative of openly gay former Councilman Lawrence Webb.
Since he left the Council last June, no movement to include such matters went into the development of this year’s agenda, she said.