The victims are Arlington County’s 220,000 residents at the hands of 7200 country club members [of the Army Navy Country Club or ANCC] led by 140 members of the General Assembly [GA] spearheaded, in turn, by a non-Arlington delegate, Thugo. According to the clubbers, the county has been assessing it under a faulty real estate tax assessment since 1960.
ANCC is a not for profit [NFP] enterprise with annual revenues of $33 Million which under the IRS code are not taxed even when it turns a profit. In one recent filing, ANCC had an excess of revenue over expenses of $840,000, untaxed profit even after paying its real estate bill. In addition, like most states, Virginia also affords NFPs tax benefits including exemption from most sales and excise levies. Thugo introduced legislation to lessen Arlington’s assessments causing a $1.5 Million real estate tax revenue loss which gap falls to the county’s 220,000 residents and benefits the ANCC and its members.
The basis for passage of the legislation rests with the Dillon rule which is, in fact, not a rule and remains unwritten as a principle or doctrine of legislative interpretation. Generally, Dillon is neutral unless a local government jurisdiction attempts to exercise a power or authority deemed beyond its scope or not authorized in existing statute.
The Dillon rule was crafted some 150 years ago in a case decided by Judge John F. Dillon and adopted by the Virginia Supreme Court two decades later. According to some commentators, Judge Dillon had a jaundiced view of local government, perhaps believing localities incapable of self-governance independent of state oversight. Around the same time Judge Dillon was expounding his theory, Judge Thomas Cooley formulated what has become known as the Cooley doctrine whereby localities are deemed to have the authority to govern themselves without reference to the state, i.e. no restraints. Today, states are classified as Dillon rule [about 40] and “home rule” jurisdictions.
The clubbing/mugging involving Arlington is not its first encounter with Dillon. Notably, in 1956, the county had adopted a phased integration plan for its schools and, as a reward, the GA nullified the school board’s elective status for opposing the massive resistance to school integration. In both instances, Arlington is the victim of the use of the Dillon rule as a weapon for perceived illegitimate behavior. The irony is that in both instances the county was exercising lawful authority notwithstanding the judgment of the GA. The absence of any limitations to the Dillon rule exposes every local government in the Commonwealth to arbitrary, even ignorant, intervention by the GA. With 150 years of experience with the Dillon rule and the evident maturation and sophistication of local governments, it’s time for a law, in writing, to define a proper and mutually acceptable relationship between the state and its localities.