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

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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