In a letter to incoming Governor Glenn Youngkin, Mayor Justin Wilson outlined some areas of potential cooperation between state and local leadership, despite a wide political gulf.
It’s no secret that there’s nervousness in the all-Democrat Alexandria leadership about the incoming Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin. For the past four years, the city has been “playing with house money” in terms of state support for local projects.
Wilson previously told ALXnow that there were some areas of potential cooperation between the state and the city, and this morning Wilson said on Twitter that he’s sent a letter to Youngkin elaborating on that.
“I know that while we may have different ways of solving the problems and challenges facing our community, we can find common ground to make life better for residents in Alexandria and in communities throughout the Commonwealth,” Wilson wrote.
Wilson outlined six areas where he thinks there’s some overlap in interests.
“Holding our electric utilities accountable”
Both city leadership and Youngkin have been highly critical of Dominion Energy. Over the last few years, Alexandria has been hit with several major power outages affecting thousands, including one earlier this year that shut down many Del Ray businesses during Art on the Avenue, one of the most pivotal days for local businesses.
When questioned by city leadership in 2020, Dominion representatives said the outages were a fluke — but subsequent outages over the next year gave the lie to Dominion’s explanation. Both Wilson and Youngkin have attacked Dominion in the past, and the utility company donated to an anti-Youngkin PAC during the campaign.
“I filed a petition with the Virginia State Corporation Commission as part of Dominion’s Triennial Review,” Wilson wrote. “My petition requested that Dominion’s allowed profit be reduced to account for the instability in Alexandria’s electrical supply.”
Fully funding the Commonwealth’s criminal justice agencies
Wilson noted that Alexandria taxpayers provide nearly $27 million annually to make up the gap between state funding for the Sheriff’s Department and the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office. The city pays these offices above their state salary to keep the jobs at regionally competitive salaries.
“As you advance your efforts to provide increased funding for public safety, we would urge that you ensure full funding of these agencies, as well as our state courts, Indigent Defense, Court Services Unit and Probation and Parole, including regional scaling for positions funded through a combination of state and local funding,” Wilson wrote.
Here, Youngkin and Alexandria leadership diverge more than with Dominion. Alexandria’s Commonwealth’s Attorney’s office has been relatively progressive and pushed forward on issues like avoiding jail sentences for marijuana possession, but Youngkin has been critical of progressive criminal justice stances.
Modernizing the tax structure
Wilson said Alexandria needs comprehensive tax reform with an eye toward elimination limits currently placed on cities, counties and towns in regard to revenue authority.
“Local government revenue sources need to be diversified,” Wilson wrote, “as we are currently overly reliant on real estate and vehicle personal property taxes and have little to no authority to raise revenue from other sources.”
Wilson said that COVID-19 in particular has limited the city’s revenue sources and has left Alexandria with few options to balance revenue.
Youngkin has called for tax reform, but along the lines of cutting incomes tax, grocery tax and more — not granting localities more authority to levy additional taxes.
Investing in public transit, including WMATA
Wilson noted in the letter that transit is a lifeline for essential workers and the overall economy of Northern Virginia, and is in turn part of supporting the Commonwealth’s economy.
“The jobs and household activities supported by Metrorail and the Virginia Railway Express (VRE) yields the Commonwealth nearly $600 million in revenue each year,” Wilson wrote, “funding that is used to support projects and programs across Virginia.”
Wilson wrote that the state needs to help Alexandria in providing financial support to WMATA. But the Commonwealth’s funding to the Metro is in part provided by the gas tax. Youngkin has vowed to lower gas taxes, which could involve eliminating the gas tax, Axios reported.
Preserving local authority
In the longest of long-shots, Wilson said the city and the state could cooperate to ease back on Dillon Rule restrictions — which only grant localities authorities directly authorized by the state.
“As a Dillon Rule state, local governments in Virginia are significantly restricted in their authority,” Wilson wrote. “An overemphasis on statewide uniformity often hampers the ability for localities like Alexandria to respond nimbly or to innovate in response to emergent challenges unique to our community.”
Youngkin hasn’t spoken about the Dillon Rule — at least not that ALXnow could find in a desperate pre-deadline Google search — but the odds of the Governor-elect ceding authority to localities seems slim.
Either way, the city will find out as a new Alexandria City Council and Youngkin are sworn in next month.
We have had a great partnership with @GovernorVA over the past four years in serving our shared constituents.
— Justin Wilson (@justindotnet) December 22, 2021
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