Education funding, authority to lower speed limits among Fairfax County’s 2023 legislative priorities

Virginia State Capitol in Richmond (file photo)

Fairfax County is seeking more state support for education, a return of $39 million for regional transportation projects and more in its recently approved legislative priorities for next year.

At a meeting last week, the Board of Supervisors approved the adoption of the county’s 2023 legislative programs for both state and federal lawmakers. It passed by a 9-1 vote with only Springfield District Supervisor Pat Herrity opposing.

The approval on Dec. 6 was, more or less, a formality with most of the discussion and debate happening in legislative committee meetings throughout the fall.

In addition to trash collection changes, here are a few of the most notable priorities in this year’s agenda:

Increase state support for education 

Jointly with Fairfax County Public Schools, the county wants the state to better address the differences between “high cost-of-living jurisdictions like Fairfax County” and other Virginia localities when funding public education.

State education funding is based on complex formulas and varies from year to year. The county has long argued that the formulas don’t adequately account for its higher cost of living compared to other areas.

“Public education funding in the Commonwealth is enshrined in the Virginia Constitution as a joint responsibility of both state and local governments, so it is essential that the state fully and appropriately meet its Constitutional responsibility to adequately fund K-12 education,” the state legislative program says.

Also, both boards oppose “budget cuts that disproportionately target or affect Northern Virginia” and “policies which divert K-12 education funding away from local public schools and toward non-public options.”

Allow traffic safety measures

Local elected county officials have maintained their call for more local authority from Virginia, where localities only have the powers explicitly granted them by the state.

As crash fatalities mount, the county is advocating for General Assembly legislation that lets localities create and post signage requiring motorists to stop for pedestrians in crosswalks.

Legislation is also needed to clarify that counties can reduce speed limits below 25 miles per hour on state-maintained roads that lie in residential districts, according to the program. Without that authority, the county’s options for addressing speeding are limited.

Restore regional transportation project funding

The state diverted $102 million away from the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority (NVTA) in 2018 to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to cover Virginia’s share of Metro funding.

In the several years since, $63.5 million has been restored, but the NVTA is still looking for the remaining nearly $39 million to support road repairs, facility maintenance, and other transportation projects in Northern Virginia.

“This [money] will ensure that transportation projects continue to advance in Northern Virginia after decades of state underfunding,” Braddock District Supervisor James Walkinshaw, who chairs the board’s legislative committee, said in his motion at the Dec. 6 meeting.

Boost state funding and support for behavioral services 

The state’s support for behavioral health services is underwhelming, Board Chairman Jeff McKay said at November’s legislative committee meeting.

“The state is dramatically underfunding behavioral health services and they need to be much more robust,” he said. “…They’ve got to start to provide funding. I mean, let’s be honest with ourselves here. The starting point leaves plenty of room for improvement.”

Additional resources are needed to implement a Marcus Alert system that adds mental health specialists as responders to certain 911 calls, increase the availability of psychiatric beds and crisis services, provide training to law enforcement, and other initiatives, per the legislative program.

The county also opposes “any state actions which disproportionately rely on local funding for service implementation.”

Relocate FBI headquarters to Springfield

The effort to bring the new FBI headquarters to Springfield has been ongoing for at least a decade. At times, it’s gotten rather competitive, with McKay recently accusing WAMTA of tipping the scales in favor of alternate sites in Maryland.

In its Congressional program, the county is keeping up the full-court press on why the site in Springfield would be the best choice. McKay noted at the November meeting that the proximity of Quantico and the TSA headquarters should be major selling points.

“I do think we need to turn the temperature up a little bit. We need to be a little more proud and pound our chest a little bit more here,” McKay said. “Hopefully, we are in the lead here and we can close this deal.”

Expand the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) program

The county hopes the federal government will expand a program that provides tax credits to developers for acquiring, rehabbing, or constructing rental housing targeted to lower-income households.

The county says the tax credit has resulted in thousands of affordable homes.

“In Fairfax County, approximately 10,000 affordable homes have been constructed, preserved, or rehabilitated utilizing the LIHTC program,” the strategy package for Congress reads. “The ability to encourage private investments in affordable housing through tax credits is critical to helping meet the demand in the County.”

Mason District Supervisor Penny Gross said there might be an inaccurate perception that Fairfax County residents aren’t using the program.

“People do not think of Fairfax County as needing this program, but we know we really do because it serves thousands of people,” Gross said.

County officials met today (Dec. 13) with local General Assembly members to discuss their priorities and will meet with local members of Congress at a later date.