Cause and effect define history an infinite loop of action and reaction through generations. While the Alexandria City Councils vote against adopting an inequitable tax on commercial properties wont share history books with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, it exemplifies Alexandrians with a cause affecting change and a government willing to listen.
Emerging from a recession, Alexandrias officials knew they had a gift from the state legislature sitting on the shelf: the ability to tax businesses and offset transportation costs. (Granted, that gift came after Richmond reduced its support for transportation infrastructure.) Some elected officials saw dollar signs, and rightly so. It was like a gift certificate: Here, have some highway infrastructure.
Then a highly engaged democratic process began. Stakeholders spoke out effectively, creating a tornado of dialogue that unhitched the status quo. Business owners protested by attending public hearings, researching endless scrolls of statistics and working directly with City Hall.
And it worked.
The add-on tax would have been an unprecedented levy in Alexandria. It would have taken the $110 million needed for transportation projects and footed commercial property owners with the bill. Problem is, transportation issues are everyones affliction, not just the business communitys.
What happened over the last few months of budget deliberations says a few refreshing things about Alexandria.
Chiefly, the governments choice to nix the tax puts Alexandria at the top of business-friendly cities in the region. Arlington and Fairfax counties both employ the levy, and now Alexandria can play its hand as a cushy place to open up shop. Taxing businesses up to 12.5 cents per $100 of their propertys value was not the way to gain an advantage, and council recognized that after the business community led the charge against the tax.
Second, it says the government is actually representative of its people. While being an elected official sometimes comes down to making unpopular, seemingly unilateral decisions, this instance was not one of them. The more the community spoke out against the new tax, the more the city council listened and not necessarily because it wanted to, but because it had to as an elected body.
Third, this budget season saw a renaissance of civic engagement on the part of Alexandrias residents. Imagine the municipalities across the country sparsely attended public hearings. Contrast that vision with Alexandrias town halls some of which creep into the early morning hours so that everyone is heard. Not to mention the hundreds of signs pasted on the windows of shops decrying the add-on tax.
As the federal government persistently stalls and struggles with budgetary issues, the city government and its citizens should be commended for engaging in actual discourse, and not just going through the motions to arrive at a premeditated decision.