'Prepare for the Worst': Fairfax County Executive Ed Long on Sequestration
What will it mean for the local economy?
(Editor's note: In case you missed it, Patch recently spoke with Fairfax County Executive Ed Long and spoke with him about sequestration - an issue that affects thousands in Northern Virginia.)
Fairfax County Executive Ed Long is advising Northern Virginians to save their money for potentially dark days, because, he says, the effects of sequestration on Northern Virginia are not yet known.
"Prepare for the worst, hope for the best - whether you're a business, a government or an individual," said Long to Patch from his office in the Fairfax County Government Center. "Two-thirds of GDP is consumer spending, but I think that's the prudent thing for folks to do… You don't know what's going to happen, and I think that in these times of uncertainty the more you can set aside and save, it's better off for you to do that."
Congress triggered the sequester after failing to meet the March 1 deadline to compromise on $1.2 trillion in debt reduction. This year the U.S. military will be forced to cut $46 billion and domestic defense spending will be cut by $85 billion. It could mean 200,000 defense-related job losses in the Commonwealth, widespread furloughs and program cuts.
Thousands of federal employees are soon expected to receive furlough notices. "It could be a few days or up to 22 days," said Long. "So, if a person has to take 22 furlough days between now and the fall, that's significant."
Long is attempting to lessen the sting of sequestration with his recently-unveiled $7 billion FY2014 budget. He is proposing to raise the real estate tax rate two cents and cut funds to parks and libraries.
The unknowns surrounding sequestration make budgeting difficult, said Long.
"It's impossible to deal with in many ways, but you have to make certain assumptions," he said. "We set aside $8 million at year end to deal with some of the sequestration cuts, so we're in the process now of setting up a structure to tell the board that we will review all these cuts that come down and tell them what they are."
Just how bad could things get?
Long: "If we were to go back into a recession it would be serious, and certainly there would not be the will to increase the tax rate necessary to keep programs at the level that they are.
"We would then be at a situation where we would be eliminating programs. We've trimmed in the past… and if we get to that point we have to have the discussion about if we need a (Fairfax County) Department of Consumer Affairs? Do we need an Office of Human Rights? The federal government can provide those, although on a much lower level of service than we provide.
"We'd have to start putting things like that on the table… Should we open libraries every day of the week or should we be open four days a week? Should we charge entrance fees into all of our parks? Should we charge for parking? We would be looking at things like that. And those change the quality of life," said Long.
County programs could be impacted by falling real estate values. Real estate taxes account for over 60 percent of county general fund revenues.
"This time last year commercial (real estate occupancy) was up 8.2 percent, then it went flat because of the fear of sequestration," said Long. "And I'm not sure we're going to have a great indication of what's going to happen in the spring. It is going to be piece-by-piece-by-piece, and when that adds up, there's where the concern is."
Long said he remains optimistic because of the addition of 20,000 federal Base Realignment and Closure employees at Fort Belvoir.
"I think that the the transportation concerns (over BRAC) were overriding the positive aspects of it," he said. "And as I was going through Tysons this morning, I was watching the people actively working on the subway, putting on the finishing touches, and that thing is going to open. And there is going to be demand and opportunity at each of those subway stops."
If anything, Long says, he's getting requests from county departments that need more funds, not less.
"The schools said they needed $45 million more to make it work… and by the way, their teacher salaries are falling below mid-point among most of the jurisdictions in this region and that it needed to be addressed long-term," he said.
Long believes the County will survive the impact of the sequester.
"I think, yes, it's going to be tough for the next year or two, but I think we'll get through this and it will be fine," he said. "This is not the first economic downturn, not the last one we're going to see. We have survived them in the past, we will survive this one and we will survive the next one that comes down the line."
What do you think the impact of sequestration will be on Fairfax County? Tell us in the comments section below!
For more on Sequestration, read: