Article VII, Section 10, of the Constitution of Virginia requires local governments to obtain voter approval to issue bonds. Voters in Loudoun County, Virginia, will be asked to consider two bond referendums on this year’s ballot.
Bonds are debt. When they are sold, the issuing government receives an influx of cash from the purchasers. But, like a bank loan, that money must be repaid over time with interest.
Like any other loan, bonds should only be used when necessary. Most projects should be funded directly from the general fund (i.e., from the “money in the bank”). Only when some specific project is very important, but too large to fund directly, should we turn to using bonds for financing.
Transportation Projects Bonds
Voters in Loudoun County, Virginia, will be asked in a referendum to authorize the county to issue up to $152,585,000 in general obligation bonds for transportation projects. These would be used to finance improvements to Braddock Road, Evergreen Mills Road, Farmwell Road, and the Route 50 corridor; building new segments of Crosstrail Boulevard and Prentice Drive; building a roundabout at the intersection of Route 9 and Route 287; making intersection improvements throughout the county; and “other public road and transportation projects.”
Loudoun County budgets less than three percent of its annual revenue for transportation projects, which is an embarrassingly low amount in a county that is growing so rapidly. A significant amount of school funding—which accounts for an insane sixty-seven percent of the county’s budget—should be redirected to these more beneficial and effective projects, at least until the schools can show themselves to be good stewards of their largess.
Regardless, I am mindful of how urgent it is that we expand and improve our local transportation network as the county continues to struggle with a fast-growing population. Great improvements have been made in recent years, but there is still much to do. The proposed improvements that will be funded by these bonds are important, and they are legitimate capital expenses.
I endorse a YES vote on the Transportation Projects bond referendum, but I also urge the county to allocate more of its general fund for transportation and reduce its reliance on debt, at least for smaller transportation projects.
School Projects Bonds
Voters in Loudoun County, Virginia, will be asked in a referendum to authorize the county to issue up to $98,920,000 in general obligation bonds for school projects. These would be used to finance design and construction of new elementary schools in Dulles North and Dulles South, build new school security vestibules at existing schools, and “other public school facilities.”
About sixty-seven percent of Loudoun County’s annual budget goes to the schools. For the 2019 fiscal year, the county will be writing a check to Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS) in the amount of $940,929,273 . . . well over nine-tenths of a billion dollars. LCPS receives another $364.5 million from the Commonwealth of Virginia, $29.9 million from the federal government, $253.6 million from “charges for services,” and lots more nickel-and-dime sources. All-told, across all budgets, LCPS plans to spend $1,544,125,137 in the 2019 fiscal year. Yes, more than $1.5 billion.
LCPS estimates that its 2019 enrollment will be 83,105 students, an increase of about two percent over the previous year’s estimated enrollment. Unusually, LCPS has reduced their budget for 2019 by about 0.6% compared to the previous year, a welcome change from last year’s inexplicable fifteen percent increase. The “official” annual cost per-pupil is listed as $14,260, but this, as always, is an outright lie. The calculation is made by dividing only the operating budget by the number of students, and ignores separate budgets for capital improvement, debt service, school nutrition, asset preservation, vehicle maintenance, and more. The real annual cost per-pupil is more than thirty percent higher than advertised: $18,580 per student.
Like most of America’s school systems, LCPS is not underfunded, it is just poorly managed and wasteful. In the absence of a top-to-bottom education reform effort, and a long-overdue critical accounting of where LCPS’s money is going and why, we should not incur any new debt for schools. I endorse a NO vote on the School Projects bond referendum.