[Sun Gazette editorials represent the viewpoint of Sun Gazette Newspapers, which provides content to, but is otherwise unaffiliated with, InsideNoVa or Rappahannock Media LLC.]
Think back, for a moment, to those halcyon days of 2006-07 in the local region. There was nearly full employment with good wages, housing prices kept rising and the future looked perpetually sunny.
And then – whammo! – the recession hit. And while the D.C. region wasn’t as impacted as many across the nation, the downturn was significant and impacted tremendous numbers of local lives.
Here we are in 2020, and while the health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be (hopefully) mild and relatively short-lived, the economic impact is going to linger. Initial hopes of a quick economic rebound by summer seem to have faded – it is going to take a while for the local region, like the nation, to dig itself out of the current hole.
Which means it’s a good time for local governments to start re-evaluating and retrenching. The situation has changed dramatically in just weeks, and if government officials felt the golden goose of ever-rising residential and commercial property values would fund a never-ending trough of expanding government programs, they’re about to be disabused. The public, which in recent times has acquiesced to the plundering instincts of local politicians because there was enough cash to go around, suddenly has to face up to shortfalls in paychecks, 401(k) accounts and housing values.
For government, it’s time for a back-to-basics approach, defining true community priorities and putting the focus on them. Scrap the “wants,” focus on the “needs.”
A good first step, albeit one we do not expect to see: Arlington school officials should scale back their ravenous budget proposal, freeing up those funds to be put into social-safety-net, public-health and other key county-government programming.
What government should not do is try to meet its obligations on the backs of suddenly stressed and scared taxpayers. Government is going to have to shoulder its share of the burden while we all work to get through the current situation and its inevitable fallout.