You can only shake your head and wonder what the chairman of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors is thinking.
Last week, Scott York said the county’s supervisors won’t fully fund the the 2015 budget for county schools. The school board will have to make cuts of about $40 million to close a tax-revenue gap, as well as compensate for a shortfall in expected state funding.
A few days later, he endorsed borrowing $200 million - about 10 percent of the the county budget - to help pay for the extension of the Silver Line to Loudoun County.
“This is great news for our taxpayers and commuters,” he said.
Here is what Mr. York is actually saying: Taking on debt to build a problem-plagued rail system whose economic benefits are purely speculative is a better investment than the current imperative to address growth and 21st century education in our schools.
Let's be clear. We're not backing off our support to extend the Silver Line to Loudoun County. And we understand that the Transportation Infrastructure Financing and Innovation Act (TIFIA) offers the loan at a low-interest rate. We simply question the fuzzy thinking that justifies the out-of-control costs of financing the Silver Line over investing in our schools.
Make no mistake: taxpayers are going to pay. It's hard to construe that as great news.
We thought no-tax Republicans such as Mr. York and the other eight supervisors oppose increasing debt, borrowing and growing government. But the $6.8 billion cost of extending the Silver Line to two stops in Loudoun County is going to escalate everything. The supervisors would be taking on debt, increasing the cost of services and financing new bodies that grow government. How do they intend to square that equation with the lower-taxes, curb-government promises they made to those who elected them?
Supervisors may be able to rationalize additional costs to taxpayers in terms other than a tax increase, but let’s get real: The Silver Line will only get more expensive to build, more complicated to operate and more uncertain in its impact. Despite what Mr. York says, the burden of financing escalating costs will fall on taxpayers. To suggest otherwise is so much political spinning.
Does anyone actually believe what the politicians and developers are telling us? That tolls on the Dulles Toll Road, Dulles Greenway and Metro won’t rise. That roads won’t become more congested (who will pay for the improvements?). That green spaces won’t be paved over with concrete? That Metro can open and run safely on time. That new sources of revenue will pay for schools.
How’s that worked so far?
Here’s the troubling part: Mr. York and fellow supervisors are suggesting that commuters, growth and economic development are more important than students and schools in this county. In that, supervisors are placing a bet instead of making an investment. They ought to get out of the county building and into the real world. Take a field trip.
The first stop would be the new Silver Line stations in Tysons Corner. Let’s hope they appreciate a colossal mess. A tangle of concrete, steel, traffic congestion and construction has appeared on what is becoming the state’s ugliest and most annoying road, Route 7, the same road with the same problems that leads into Loudoun.
Next stop: Reston Station, where they’ll learn about the continuing problems with Metro’s safety controls, the same problem that contributed to the fatal crash on the Red Line in 2009. The opening of the Reston Station has now been pushed back nearly a year to late summer because of the safety issue. Walk the neighborhood and ask the residents about confidence in the Silver Line, costly fares and the impact on neighborhoods and community.
Then it's back to Loudoun for stops at Eagle Ridge and Belmont Ridge middle schools. There, we hope supervisors appreciate the asset of students embracing the skills of a digital age in teacher-enriched environments for learning. Supervisors will soon have to consider the development of a proposed academy for technology, math and science. The academy would open in 2018, coincidentally the same year the Silver Line would be completed. Sooner or later, our elected leaders will have to choose.
Here’s another reason for supervisors to reconsider their priorities. Let’s say the Silver Line is a huge success when and if it opens in 2018. Tens of thousands of people come to Loudoun, continuing the population surge of the second fastest-growing county in the nation. Loudoun County will have to build even more new schools to provide what should be our most-valued resource with the kind of education it takes to succeed in a county that’s among the most competitive in the world. That’s a scenario that takes us back to now.
As Loudoun changes before our eyes, it’s time for supervisors to open theirs. Extending a rail line from another county may bring silver, but the education of children in this county pays gold.
Growth brings difficult decisions. It’s time to get priorities straight and represent the price of progress with vision, intelligence and honesty. Here's what we ask of the county's leaders: Give us a plan, not platitudes.