John Forrest Dillon

Judge John Forrest Dillon had no direct ties to Virginia, but his constitutional analysis provides the underpinning of the power of the state government compared to local governments in the Old Dominion. (Library of Congress)

John Forrest Dillon has been dead and buried for more than a century, but every year around this time, the Arlington Chamber of Commerce lights a candle for him –   rhetorically speaking, at least.

As part of its 2021 package of legislative priorities, the Chamber of Commerce is continuing its position that the “Dillon Rule” needs to be maintained, and urged members of the General Assembly to do nothing that would lessen it.

Leadership of the business organization comes and goes and other policy positions evolve over time, but the Chamber’s support for the Dillon Rule has remained steadfast over the decades.

The rule gets its name from John Forrest Dillon (1831-1914), who as a federal judge in Iowa expounded the view that, because the U.S. Constitution does not reference local governments, they have no inherent powers that aren’t first granted to them by their state constitutions or legislators.

About a quarter of states – mostly in the South and West – still adhere to that interpretation, concentrating power at the state level. The Old Dominion is among the most extreme; without the authority of the General Assembly, localities only have the limited powers given them in their charters or the Virginia constitution.

Supporters of the Dillon Rule largely springs from the idea that the state government provides a check on overzealous local governments. While sometimes attributed to the Byrd machine that ran Virginia state government in the 1930s-60s, the concept existed in Virginia even before then.

On other issues of a local bent, the Chamber waded in on the contentious “missing middle” housing issue, declaring its support (in principle) for efforts that will increase the housing stock in Arlington.

Supporters of the missing-middle proposal – now in its nascent stages – say that more housing supply will decrease the likelihood of Arlington’s becoming two enclaves (the wealthy and the poor) with the middle class squeezed out. Opponents of the proposal say more housing won’t fix the affordability issue, but will overburden an already taxed local infrastructure that is seeing schools, roads and stormwater systems bursting at the seams.

While supporting creation of more housing, the business organization affirmed its previous criticism of the effort in 2017 by the county government to set up an affordable-housing-preservation district in Westover. Chamber officials contend the business community was not part of the discussion, and voice concern that the effort – which has not done a great deal to stem the exodus of affordable housing in the Westover community – will be expanded to other parts of Arlington.

In addition to positions on local policy, the Chamber also recorded its views on topics likely to be taken up in the 2021 General Assembly session, which begins in mid-January.

The package will be forwarded to the seven legislators representing Arlington in Richmond, as well as the five County Board members.

[Sun Gazette Newspapers provides content to, but otherwise is unaffiliated with, InsideNoVa or Rappahannock Media LLC.]

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