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The federal government is shrinking, the economy teetering, the meals tax failed — and Fairfax County is facing yet another budget shortfall (not to be read as a revenue shortfall… but merely a budget shortfall).

From the Washington Post:

“This is probably going to be one of the most somber budgets that I’ve had to deal with in my 40-plus years with the county,” Long said before launching into a presentation that showed how the region’s lukewarm real estate market and lower-than-expected state funds from Richmond will make it harder to raise teacher salaries, implement police overhauls and accomplish other objectives without raising property taxes for the county’s 1.1 million residents.

Gee — one might be lead to believe that, oh I dunno, the Great Recession was the most “somber budget” any locality might have wanted to face.  Interesting footnote: just as Virginia localities in Southwest have had to struggle as industries closed and coal has gone out of fashion, so too will Fairfax have to struggle with the closing of its coal mines… namely the federal government under Trump.

In stark contrast, we have the City of Norfolk willing to subsidize IKEA to the tune of $500,000 just to bring a box store closer to home.  From the Virginian-Pilot:

“We think this is a great opportunity to be in the Hampton Roads market, and we think this is a fantastic site,” Roth said. “And the city of Norfolk has really been an earnest and good partner. And we’re really trying to make things work.”

Of course, there’s an interesting sideline here.  These box stores will generate that much and more in sales tax revenue alone in its first year — a Wal-Mart for instance will generate $1 million at minimum.  Given that these stores typically have a 15-year shelf life?  That’s $15 million in sales tax revenue for a $500,000 investment.

Not shabby — but also not the role of government.

What’s truly interesting in this contrast though isn’t just the obvious contradiction of Fairfax pleading for cash for libraries while Norfolk slathers subsidies on box stores.  Rather, the contrast is in how the pigs here want to be fed.  Norfolk is more than happy to use tax-fueled subsidies to lure investment; Fairfax — the effort to squeeze taxpayers through a meals tax having now failed — is now more than happy to turn to the local property owner to keep the bureaucracy engorged.

Of course, no two localities are alike.  Fairfax can’t be run like a rural locality; Norfolk as a city has a vast array of tools at its disposal that counties do not have.  One trend that is passively considered in Virginia is to give all localities the same tools to tax as cities… but the obvious point here is that a locality will only “get” the local taxpayer 20+ different ways rather than 7 — the burden on the taxpayer won’t be lessened, only increased both in cost and in the intricacies of the web of taxation created.

Yet the tale of two localities in Virginia cannot be ignored.  The problem, perhaps, isn’t in how the local governments are catching the grenades coming from federal and state mandates (funded and unfunded), but rather what the public is asking the localities to do within the confines of the straitjackets provided by Richmond.

Coming up with creative (or un-creative) ways of tackling the problem through taxpayer subsidies or taxpayer squeezing seems rather out of place.