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Op-Ed: Voters Should Say NO to the Meals Tax

by RestonNow.com — August 4, 2016 at 2:45 pm 46 Comments

Election Day/file photoThis is a commentary by Claude Andersen, Clyde’s Restaurant Group Director of Operations. It does not represent the opinion of Reston Now.

Fairfax County government officials are gearing up for an election year battle. Granted, they’re not up for election, but there’s a high-stakes question on the Nov. 8 ballot that will impact our county in far-reaching ways.

It’s meals tax proposal by the County Board of Supervisors that would impose an additional 4-percent tax on all prepared foods and meals in our county —  on top of the existing 6 percent sales tax already in effect.

The meals tax would raise an estimated $100 million per year in new tax revenue, and comes on top of the $100 million increase in real estate taxes imposed on county property owners in just last year.

Calling it a “meals tax” is misleading. Besides adding another 4 percent on top of the 6 percent (for a total of 10 percent) already levied on every meal served at every restaurant in our county, from fast food to fine dining establishments, it doesn’t stop there.

The new tax would also be imposed on anything considered a “meal” — from beverages served with a meal to prepared foods — any ready-to-eat food you buy from a restaurant, deli, cafeteria, lunchroom, bar, push cart, food truck, hot dog stand, convenience store, gas station, grocery store or hotel banquet costs would be taxed an additional 4 percent for a total of 10 percent.

For people at any income level, that’s a significant portion of the food they buy and, while it’s not a tax on groceries, it’s about as close as you can get.

The claim is that 70 percent of the new taxes would go to fund the county’s schools, with the remaining 30 percent dedicated to county services, capital improvements, and property tax relief.

(It’s interesting to note that while they just raised taxes on homeowners they now want to provide “relief” by asking those same people to pay more for prepared meals! It’s asking property owners to pay again for their own “relief.”)

So, why is this a bad idea and why should voters reject it?

First, our county budget has increased by almost $1 BILLION since 2012. County leaders need to understand that the solution to any perceived problems shouldn’t be to demand more money from county residents and visitors. Our leaders need to do their jobs and spend our money wisely by placing the emphasis on frugality, efficiency, and good management, not just more money.

We’re not undertaxed … but that doesn’t mean more taxes are a good option or solution. Rather, we need to control our spending, and spend wisely.

Second, it’s not just a restaurant tax. It’s a regressive tax on every hot dog, deli sandwich, or grocery store chicken we buy. While it’s not a grocery tax, it’s reasonable to say that this tax will find its way to some of the food on most dinner tables in our homes every day.

Third, this tax will make us less competitive by raising the cost of living and visiting here. We will lose our advantage with tourists, conferences, and other events vis-a-vis surrounding jurisdictions. And by passing the second major tax increase in a single year, we will be signaling to businesses to think again before locating in Fairfax County.

And, fourth, this tax unfairly targets a single industry. In doing that it will hit small, neighborhood bars and restaurants and the people who work there hardest of all. There are tens of thousands of people working in county restaurants who will see their profits squeezed and gratuities decreased as the taxes on a customer’s bill pile up on top of the cost of the meal.

On Nov. 8, the meals tax is the last item on the county ballot. Voters should vote their choice for President, for Congress, and then cast a vote for themselves by saying NO to the last question, the meals tax.

Claude Andersen

Clyde’s Restaurant Group, Director of Operations

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  • johnQPublic

    CROOKS! I will be voting NO on more of Uncles Sams legal theft

    • 30yearsinreston

      Nor Uncle Sam
      Mother Hudgins and Mother Bulova

  • EliteinReston

    The author suggests that county residents already are paying a 6 percent meals tax, and that the proposed 4 percent meals tax would constitute a second charge. Please clarify.

    • Karen Goff

      He means a 6 percent sales tax.

      • EliteinReston

        Got it, thank you.

  • rinr

    Of course the writer is against the meals tax, since it might (marginally) effect her business. However, most jurisdictions collect meals taxes, why not Fairfax County? Among the advantages are that a significant portion of the revenue comes from non-residents and helps pay for services they use while visiting or working in Fairfax County, and that the tax provides an alternative to raising real estate taxes to meet essential local government services that we all use and enjoy.

    • Mike M

      Sally and Jimmy are addicted to heroin. Why not Bobby?

      Your logic astounds me!

    • Scott H

      “government services that we all use and enjoy.”

      I wouldn’t say that all, or even most people, “enjoy” Govt. services.

      Why is the answer always more taxes to fund bigger government? Why would you never think to ask WHY the govt needs another $100M from a brand new sources on top of the $7.5B they already collect, and why they couldn’t restrain themselves?

    • Scott H

      “Most”
      The 39 cities of Virginia all impose a meals tax.
      47 of 95 counties impose a meals tax.
      Technically, “Most” is correct, but it’s hardly overwhelming

      currently neither Loudon or Prince William do

  • Mike M

    No, they are not up for election. Hudgins and Bulova were just re-elected and THAT is why this referendum is now. They hope all you L-words forgot this by next year.

    • Scott H

      Elections have consequences. People get the govt they vote for…at the moment, it’s 8-2 Democrat. It should not be surprising that the meals tax vote was 8-2, on party lines to move it forward to referendum

      County Board of Supervisors
      Sharon Bulova…Dem
      John Cook… Rep
      John Foust… Dem
      Cathy Hudgins… Dem
      Jeff McKay… Dem
      Penelope Gross… Dem
      Daniel Storck… Dem
      Linda Smyth… Dem
      Pat Herrity… Rep
      Kathy Smith… Dem

      It will not stop. If the meals tax is defeated, Big Govt pols will look for another, and another means to extract revenue from the people. The only answer is to elect small-Govt candidates who don’t want YOUR money to fund their own political exploits.

      • Ben Tribbett

        Actually it was 8-2 with Pat Herrity (R) and Linda Smyth (D) voting no.

        • Scott H

          Thank you for the correction. The point still stands though.

          • Ben Tribbett

            Some points might, but not your claim that “the meals tax vote was 8-2, on party lines to move it forward to referendum”. In fact, both parties were represented in yes votes and both were represented in no votes.

          • Scott H

            The ONLY point is that you get the Govt you vote for.
            I’m not a Republican, but let’s not pretend that the growing budget and taxation hasn’t corresponded with the “blueing” of the county over the last 20 years.

            And let’s not split hairs on the vote. 7 of 8 democrats voted in favor. Tough to make a claim that there was any real democratic opposition.

          • Ben Tribbett

            You are right the consensus Democratic opinion was “Yes”, but its not splitting hairs to correct your extremely egregious error to claim a vote was “party line” that saw Republicans split evenly 1-1.

          • Scott H

            2 republicans out of 9 are irrelevant in the operation of FC. Democrats grow govt and tax the people to oblivion. Hairs.split

          • John Farrell

            If only that were true. Those of us who watch Channel 16 reguarly know that Sharon Bulova’s obsession with wanting unanimous votes has given the minority on the Board a veto that Gerry Connolly would have never tolerated.

          • Chuck Morningwood

            So did 50% of Republicans. Go figure.

          • Mike M

            Semantics. You could say that all the Republicans voted no, but one. Silly argument when you consider that there are only two Republicans out of the 10. Dems own this tax. They cannot get enough.

          • Chuck Morningwood

            It seems as if the Repubs aren’t all that against it either.

  • Scott H

    AMEN! We do not have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem. Vote No and make the pols be responsible with the $7BILLION they already collect

    • 30yearsinreston

      They love spending taxpayers money and then claiming ‘credit’

    • John Farrell

      Please offer the rest of us your $100MM in spending cuts – with citations to specific lines in the County budget.

  • CookieAtHome

    It seems a given that the writer does not agree with the tax. However, the reasons stated are full of malarkey:
    First: the budget has increased $1B since some date. SO what, that has nothing to do with the meals tax.
    Second: it’s not reasonable to simply say the tax will make it to every dinner table, you need to provide stats. Simply saying it will happen does not mean it will happen or by how much.
    Third: total BS
    Fourth: either it is “not only a restaurant tax (point 1)” or “it unfairly targets a single industry, restaurants”. You don’t get to have your cake and eat it too. Also: people generally tip on the total bill including tax, so in effect, tips will increase. Folks are still going to frequent restaurants as frequently as they do now, regardless of the 4%.

    I would rather the additional tax were not needed.
    However, assuming there is no other way to get the money or reduce the budget, I would rather the additional tax be taken out of somebody elses pockets and not mine.
    I don’t eat at Clydes, it’s a really nice restaurant and all, but too high for my budget.

    My cost per year of the tax increase is estimated at two fiddy.

    • 30yearsinreston

      Your response is malarkey
      It with not just apply to Clyde’s and restaurants
      Get a sub or a salad at the supermarket?
      Kaaching!

      • CookieAtHome

        I don’t buy pre-prepared subs or salads at the supermarket, I buy lettuce and tomatoes and bread and make them myself. I seriously believe this tax is going to cost me at most $2.50 a year. Your mileage may vary. Your mileage is directly proportional to the premium you ALREADY pay for the convenience of having other people do your work.

        • Mike M

          30, I am afraid your lifestyle is simply not approved by the commissariat.

    • Mike M

      So, you like this tax because it doesn’t affect you, but affects other people?

      Brilliant!

      • CookiesAtHome

        Exactly! The money IS going to come from somewhere, rather it be from your pocketses and not mine. If I had the power to reduce the budget, I would do so. If I had the power to make y’all pay for your own darn kids to go to private school, I would do so. But I don’t, so grubbing those dollars from the elite who think it’s below them to fix themselves a PBJ suits me just fine.

        • Mike M

          The elite: Those who buy prepared food.

          Thanks for that. And for your selfish outlook.

  • Greg

    Agree fully. Vote NO on the meals tax.

  • 30yearsinreston

    Hudgins should ask her developer buds for a contribution to.the general fund, not just her campaign
    A meals tax is a regressive tax
    Dems should oppose it as will I

  • KIKI

    The board is obviously incompetent and needs to be fired.

  • JoeInReston

    A restaurant owner’s argument against a political issue should not be dismissed because of his race.

    • It’s an institutional patriarchy that has existed for centuries. Look around at who makes the decisions in our legislatures, our courtrooms, board rooms – chambers of commerce – and recognize the common thread. There are people who truly believe they know what is best for everyone else and they are sitting in a position to affect policies that impact entire communities. It’s an institutional bias that people dismiss or don’t recognize. It’s not inconsequential.

  • Dodge

    To say that gratuities will decrease is disingenuous. 90% of people look at the total bill to calculate the tip. Thus this will increase the total bill by 4%, and the tip will go up. If you look at a pre-tax amount to calculate the tip, or you subtract from the tip in order to pay the tax amount then you are just a bad person with bad morals. If you can’t afford to pay the extra amount, maybe you should spend more time in the grocery store and less time at Chillis.

    • Mike M

      So, it’s up to you and Cathy Hudgins where I should eat?
      And if I do things differently than you, I am “a bad person with bad morals?” That says oodles about you.

      As for tips, it’s not likely the waiters will notice the difference either way.

  • RoadApples

    In my circumstance, as I currently/previously do/did in the Town of Vienna and City of Fairfax when in a tipping scenario:
    I normally tip servers 30%.
    If indeed the 4% meals tax is passed, I will then tip 26% and tell the server that the additional 4% that I previously would have given for service; will instead go into the Fairfax County coffers.

  • Guest

    Ordinarily I would support a meals tax because it is a voluntary tax. You don’t have to pay it if you don’t dine out. Moreover, it is actually a pretty small tax per transaction, so even eating out infrequently won’t endanger the rent.

    BUT Fairfax County and its school system in particular seems to have absolutely no sense at all about controlling budget costs from pensions to an incomprehensible maze of social service expenditures that are redundant, overlapping, and often unnecessary.

    Until the County learns to control expenditures, I will continue to vote “NO” on the meals tax.

  • TwoFootTackle

    I disagree. A meals tax will broaden and diversify the tax base so that taxes are less concentrated on certain segments of the population. I will be voting for the referendum.

    • Mike M

      You are wrong. If they were going to offset this new tax with a reduction of the property tax, then this would be a diversification. But instead it is simply an additional tax.

  • Catherine S. Read

    No. I am looking at the most vocal restaurant owners – who are in fact a tiny minority of all restaurant owners in this county – and looking at what makes this particular group believe they are speaking on behalf of an entire industry in a massive county. Being loudest doesn’t make anyone “right.”

  • Greg

    Got news for you: Virginia has fallen from number 1 to 13th or 14th best place to do business. “Virginia’s rank dropped to 13th largely due to weakness in the Virginia economy relative to other states.”

    Do more for less like the rest of us. Vote NO on the meals tax.

  • PatrickNoVA

    There are many other income sources and taxes that have a much smaller impact on current county residents than a 4% meal tax which would likely cost the avg county adult resident $100+ annually.
    1. Did the board investigate charging developers more for adding new new homes and buildings? This may also slow down the development that the majority of county residents dislike. Fairfax County’s development fees are below the national average.
    2. Did the board investigate a local county income tax for people who work, but do not live in Fairfax County? 14 states have local (city/county/municipal) taxes. This would also help commuters pay for county road upkeep and expansion,
    3. Require the county budget to follow a strict maximum increase (ex CPI inflation + 1% annually); exceptions would have to be approved by the voters.

    I am an independent who has lived in this county for 21 years, but am contemplating leaving because of increasing taxes and congestion.

    I predict that this meal tax will be overwhelmingly defeated on November.

  • Stormy_Fireriver

    I’ve seen a lot of good points on both sides. I have two children in FCPS and I have noticed a huge decline in the teachers and resources they are getting. The schools are also filled with many children that are not from America that are taking up resources. The schools do not have the funds to provide raises for the teachers or to attract quality teachers because they are paying far less then other counties. How do we ensure the schools are being funded properly? How do we ensure our kids are getting a great education despite the influx of children from other countries that are poor and don’t speak English? I know it sounds harsh but I am seeing this as a parent. I moved here to ensure my kids got a good education and at this point it isn’t keeping me here anymore. As FCPS decline and other counties provide a better education people will leave and all that will be left are those that only take from the system. I am not opposed to this tax but believe that Fairfax County and Virginia needs to do a better job with the tax dollars they already receive.

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