Veto Anti-Arlington Private Golf Course Tax Subsidy Bill

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The Virginia General Assembly passed a Bill (HB 1204) that will dramatically reduce the property tax assessments of two private, members-only golf courses in Arlington. If not vetoed by Governor Northam, Arlington County will lose approximately $1.5 million in revenue and lawmakers who were not elected by Arlingtonians will be forcing the Arlington County Board to either raise the property tax rate for all Arlingtonians or cut services. 

This Bill represents a gross interference in local control over property tax rates.  The power to assess property value for tax purposss is exclusively within the authority of Arlington County. 

And the power to decide property tax disputes rests exclusively in the Virginia court system.  Courts are specifically design to decide disputes. 

In late December, the Clubs filed a lawsuit against Arlington County. The County promptly answered, denying the allegations. Instead of letting this dispute be decided by the courts, Delegate Tim Hugo — acting with lightning speed as if he were executing a pre-planned strategy — patroned a Bill (HB 1204 or the Hugo Bill) that decided the dispute in favor of the Clubs. The General Assembly then passed it. 

There are only two possible reasons for this action. Either the General Assembly of Virginia does not have confidence in the courts of Virginia to resolve disputes or they feared that if the facts and evidence were presented in an open court before a neutral judge, Arlington County would win. 

The second alternative seems the more likely because if Arlington County is being as unfair and unreasonable as Tim Hugo and others claim, then surely the courts of Virginia could figure this out. 

Right now, Arlington County is facing a budget deficit of $19 million. There are many worthwhile services and funding grants slated to be cut or reduced, including Arlington’s contribution to the Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, positions in Community Health, money for the Arlington Independent Media, and transportation and environmental services. There are many others are as well. This Bill will only deepen these cuts or result in higher taxes. Again, these alternatives are being forced on Arlington by non-Arlington legislators. 

The Bill has been shamelessly marketed as a pro-service member, pro-veterans Bill because one of the two golf courses is the Army Navy Country Club. In other words, the Club’s lobbyists and anti-Arlington lawmakers have reached out to military and veterans groups vilifying Arlington as unfairly taxing service members and veterans. They have gotten service members and veterans to write their state representatives and Gov. Northam.

The idea that Arlington is anti-military or anti-veteran is ludicrous. We could not be more proud to have our name on and support the most sacred ground in this country: Arlington Cemetery.  The Navy has the USS Arlington in its fleet — the third ship named for Arlington — in memory of those who lost their lives in Arlington on 9/11 and in honor of the 1000s of first responders from Arlington and the National Capital area who provided critical assistance after the attack.  

Moreover, the County has numerous programs to support needy veterans, including tax relief for disabled veterans and the surviving spouses of service members killed in action.  Veterans are disproportionately affected by homelessness and Arlington County has made it a priority to dramatically reduce homelessness. We reached zero effective homelessness for veterans in 2015. We have job services available. We have referral services available. We are a very generous community for the needy. 

By contrast, the average service member and veteran cannot afford the Army Navy Country Club.  Initiation fees to play golf are $72,000 for civilians and enlisted service members while the fees for active duty officers are $0 to $23,000. This does not even include the annual fees and the green fees. Army Navy Country Club is not targeting enlisted service members nor is it targeting Arlington teachers, police officers or other county employees.  Disabled veterans are far more likely to use Arlington County services than the Army Navy Country Club. 

Of course, the other private golf course receiving beneficial treatment under this Bill is the Washington Golf and Country Club, The initial membership fee is said to be $100,000.

Another completely off-base argument in support of this Bill is that Arlington County taxes these two courses at much higher rates than other golf courses in the state. That is true, and completely irrelevant. Arlington County is much smaller geographically than any other county in the state. Land is very expensive. The two courses are taxed at a rate of $12 per square foot. By contrast, homes where these courses are located are taxed at a rate $72 and $99.75 per square foot. This is hardly evidence of a punitive taxation policy. And anyway, let the Courts decide if the rates charged at other country clubs in the state are relevant and appropriate for Arlington County. That’s their job. 

Under the Bill, the Clubs will be charged at a rate of $.50 per sq ft. These Clubs sit on prime real estate in Arlington County and have never recorded something called an “open space” easement on their properties. If they did, this would be a different situation because then these properties could then be sold for residential development.

So, the Clubs want to have their cake and eat it too. They want to be assessed as “open spaces” for tax purposes but they do not want to incur the significant decrease in their property values if they recorded an open space easement. That would hurt their ability to borrow. It would permanently prevent them from ever selling their properties for development (where you can pretty much guess that they would claim that their current assessed value is way below market rate.)

This Bill is a subsidy for the relatively few members of two private country clubs at the expense of all 230,000 Arlington County residents, all Arlington County businesses (including small businesses), and all users of Arlington County’s considerable services and programs, including for the needy. 

Please sign this Petition to urge Governor Northam to veto HB 1204. 

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