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Op-Ed: Great Schools and Restaurant Meals Out Too

by RestonNow.com August 10, 2016 at 1:15 pm 29 Comments

FCPS School Board member Pat HynesThis is an op-ed by Pat Hynes, Fairfax County Public Schools Board member representing the Hunter Mill District. She is speaking for herself and not the entire school board in this post, which also does not represent the opinion of Reston Now.

If you’ve ever participated in a “Dining for Dollars” event for your local school, you know how important the relationships between school PTAs and neighborhood restaurants are.

That’s why when the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors recently voted to put a meals tax referendum on the November ballot, they were careful to signal that some of the revenue — about $3 million annually — would go back to restaurants to pay the costs of collecting the tax. As we diversify and stabilize our community’s revenue base for important needs like the school system, local businesses must be supported as well.

Counties in Virginia have very little flexibility or authority when it comes to generating revenue, and a meals tax is one of those few options.

Nearly every surrounding jurisdiction currently uses a meals tax to help diversify its revenue base, including the Towns of Vienna and Herndon, Fairfax City, Falls Church, Arlington and Alexandria. The revenue from the proposed 4-percent Fairfax County meals tax is estimated to bring in almost $100 million to the County’s annual operating budget. After approximately $3 million of that annual revenue goes back to restaurants to pay their costs, 70 percent of the remaining revenue would go to the schools.

After almost 10 years of austerity, FCPS is spending $1,000 less per child, in real dollars, than in 2009. Those savings have come from years of frozen teacher pay, class size increases and deep cuts in administration. Thanks to our county and state funders, fiscal year 2017 is looking brighter, with an increase in funding that will allow us to lower elementary class size caps and push FCPS teacher pay halfway to the regional market average.

Full recovery for the school system will require at least a few more years of sustained reinvestment, however, and annual property tax increases cannot be the answer. The annual boost from a meals tax would provide that marginal difference we need to continue investing in our teachers and our kids as we recover, without going back to homeowners for higher property taxes every year.

Stabilizing the county’s revenue base with a meals tax helps not only the schools, of course. Fairfax County is a great place to live because of all the important public services we rely on. Police and firefighters keep us safe, accessible parks and recreation facilities keep us healthy, libraries are important centers of community life, and human services support all of us throughout the stages of our lives. A stronger revenue base would help make all of this possible and provide some relief to property owners.

For restaurant owners and workers who are worried about what a meals tax might mean for them, I encourage them to look at our neighboring jurisdictions that have had a meals tax for many years. Every time I drive through the Town of Vienna, for example, a new restaurant has opened up and very few ever seem to close. The experience in surrounding jurisdictions is that restaurants continue to thrive, along with those great partnerships between neighborhood eateries and neighborhood schools. When we all do our part for kids, everyone wins.

The Nov. 8 meals tax referendum will be an important opportunity for the community to weigh in on our priorities. Vote YES to the meals tax!

Pat Hynes

Hunter Mill representative on the Fairfax County School Board

Photo: Pat Hynes/file photo

  • Nyla J.

    “diversify and stabilize the revenue base” = bleeding me dry with taxes and tolls until I’m so fed up with the spending habits of this county, especially the schools, I move.

  • Chuck Morningwood

    Yeah, I don’t think so. You get enough of my tax dollars already. Consider cutting some programs. I would especially welcome cuts to That Program Which Can’t Be Named Otherwise This Post Might Get Censored.

  • meh

    Class size increases can be resolved by enforcing borders, Class costs can be reduced by reigning in ESL spending. This is not my problem and I will not pay more for the solution.

    If I get banned…..It’s been a pleasure

  • KevOMG

    I think helping the kids isn’t the issue people have. If so, then that’s likely a rare feeling.
    There’s no accountability with any government programs any more. If you get the “estimated” (key word here) amount of money, will that solve all your problems? Likely not. So how long until another program is enacted that pulls more tax dollars away?
    IF someone were to look through the Fairfax county books, I’m POSITIVE you would find shortings, unkept promises, and poor accounting that leads to more taxes rather than retribution to those who failed. Frankly, I’m not giving another dime than I have to for an organization that has a leader who has a hooker scandal.
    In the words of Hall and Oates; I can’t go for that.

    • Karen Goff

      I think you are confusing Fairfax City (hooker scandal) and Fairfax County. Two totally different organizations.

      • KevOMG

        Ah yes. It was a throw in joke at the end, so disregard. Wrong government.

  • Richard

    I don’t like the bait and switch that the county is employing. Just like the state lottery years ago, they’re arguing that the money will primarily go to schools, but there’s no guarantee that this will happen. After the state legislature passed the lottery on a promise that the money would go to schools, they took the money they were formerly giving to schools and used it for other pet projects, leaving no net increase for schools. A shell game. Why should I expect anything different with Fairfax County? Cathy Hudgins is so opaque about her priorities that I have no confidence she will back her constituents, like me, who wish to see a significant net increase in school funding.

    • Scott H

      ^^^^^^^^ THIS!!!!! ^^^^^^^^^^

      Nailed it Richard!!!!!
      “The Children” are always used as the bait to give politicians more money for budgetary malfeasance used to keep themselves in power.

  • Mike M

    Synopsis of the author’s argument:

    1) We are diversifying our revenue base.
    (This is false. Simple diversification would offset the new tax with cuts in the other tax. I think that would also be stabilization. What this meals tax really is a tax increase.)
    2) Restaurants will get $3 million in return.
    (This shows how inefficient these new tax collections can be. They generate new costs for the businesses that go beyond to tax costs and their customers will have to cover them too. To offset them, some of the new revenue has to be immediately diverted back to businesses. I wonder if anyone knows how much of the new costs that $3 million would even cover? Imagine the costs to administer the program to determine what restaurants get the kickback?)
    3) Other jurisdictions do it.
    (Astoundingly, this is the argument that if Bobby and Sally do something ill-advised it’s OK for Billy.)
    4) FCPS is spending $1,000 less per child.
    (OK. what can we do in our development approvals, proffers, and immigration enforcement policies to reduce the number of students with respect to expenditures? What services can be cut?)
    5) Finally, it doesn’t look like the meals tax has destroyed the restaurant industry elsewhere.
    (So if it hasn’t done visible damage, we might as well go ahead and do it? How many more restaurants would be opening if this tax were not imposed? We cannot know. How much more business would existing stores get? We cannot know. And there is no mention that it is not only restaurants that are affected.)

    • Greg

      “3) Other jurisdictions do it.”

      Even more disturbing that it’s coming from a school “person.”

    • Reston Roulette

      I appreciate your comments. There is a national trend much discussed with regards to the Nation’s eating habits moving towards meals not prepared in the home. I am not going to travel to Loudoun County to order my McDonald’s because of the meals tax.

  • cRAzy

    I call BS.

  • Wheatie

    “When the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors recently voted to put a meals tax referendum on the November ballot, they were careful to signal that some of the revenue — about $3 million annually — would go back to restaurants to pay the costs of collecting the tax.”

    Wow! This plan is so inefficient that some of it has to come back to the restaurants to pay for the cost of collecting it? And the author brags about this?

    “Stabilizing the tax base” means increasing taxes?

    And of course, increasing budgets every year = great schools. So the DC public schools must be the best in the nation.

    Enough. Just enough.

  • Eat this Mikey

    I voted on the bonds already. Now they want more. Then I am reading that all school budgets had enough funds on hand although projections said that none were in place. So meal tax now covers exactly what?

    Maybe the planners should look at their surpluses. And also look at funds that are just spent because they were allocated but not used – year over year.

    S-h-a-m-e-f-u-l. Say no to legalized theft. Next thing, lets tax your breath when you speak up – because we have a revenue problem.

    • Mike M

      Yes, bonds. The other revenue diversifier. Taking from the future.

  • vdiv

    No, vote NO on the meals tax. Do these people even hear themselves? Literally taking food out of people’s mouths, including the kids for whom they proclaim they care so dearly? Shame on them!

  • hopefulone1967

    The vast majority of the Fairfax County budget and then a sizeable amount from the state is already being given to the schools for funding. That’s enough. I am not for the meals tax. We are taxed enough as is such as with real estate increases. Citizens should educate themselves further regarding this matter and take a close look at what is and isn’t funded in Fairfax County. There are many other programs that could benefit from increased funding if available such as those for the intellectually disabled, homeless, mentally ill or low-income in general. Following is a link that shows how the county’s budget is dispersed. Noticed that near 53 percent goes to the schools. http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dmb/fy2016/adopted/where-it-goes.htm

  • TBird73

    “Full recovery for the school system will require at least a few more years of sustained reinvestment”

    Translation: “It will take YEARS for you to give us everything we want”

    “and push FCPS teacher pay halfway to the regional market average”

    Translation: “Do I mean it will then still be only half of the average, or do I mean that salaries would then be the regional average?? You don’t know either? That’s the point.”

    Hell no to this stealth school tax. Yet another way for the schools to fleece the county taxpayer of money while still taking no responsibility. They want money? Take responsibility. Let’s do a school tax. And when that goes up every year, people will know EXACTLY who to call.

  • Mary Cavanaugh

    No Meals Tax!

  • Greg

    Vote NO on the meals tax.

  • 30yearsinreston

    I pay enough for FCPS through property tax
    They need to live within their means
    We all have to – this sacred cow is goring us

    • Scott H

      Based on my quick web search:
      – There are roughly 1.13M people in the county.
      – The county collects almost $4B annually.

      That’s more than $3500 for every man, woman, and child in the county…not tax payers, people.
      The FC Govt does not need more revenue. It needs to spend less!

  • 30yearsinreston

    When has a FCPS board member not asked for more Money ?

  • cRAzy

    One question: How much is spent per student total at TJ vs. the expenditure per student elsewhere across the county? I think FC just bought the #1 school rating by shorting 99% of our kids. A school system for the one percent!

  • Scott H

    Bullocks!!! It’s always “for the children,” but it’s NEVER enough to take care of the children.
    Last year the county raised property taxes by $100 Million.
    Now we are told the county needs ANOTHER $100 Million in the form of a 4% tax on any prepared food, whether it be in a restaurant, grocery store, food truck, etc.
    The county already takes in almost $4 BILLION annually.
    We do not have a revenue problem. We have a spending problem.
    Cut 2% elsewhere…you know…”for the children!”

  • hadrianmarcus

    There will never be enough tax revenue to meet the needs of FCPS. It’s a financial impossibility. And after years of political hyperbole from the FCPS of Oliver Twist proportions, the school board has slowly extended its reach to absorb 52.7 % of this county’s budget. Enough. Vote No. Twice.

  • Alan Krishnan

    There is ONLY one valid reason for the meals’ tax and that is: non-residents of Fairfax County will pay a significant part of it, and so it is money into our county. Like gas tax that visitors pay. Sadly, too often revenue from a new source just cuts allocations from traditional sources – the county should guarantee that the percentage of county budget that goes to the schools will not reduce and money per student will not reduce and that the funds from the meals tax will fund NEW activity, or fund activities that have been cut due to funding.

  • ADtheDefender

    But Fairfax County just increased my property taxes! No more, enough is enough.

  • lee

    The School Board is their own worst enemy. Despite tight budgets during the past five years they continually funds costly and controversial social engineering initiatives. Now they are pushing the meals tax as a way to ‘diversify’ the revenue stream and acknowledges that their desire for MORE funds will continue. To top it off, they have REFUSED to pass a motion on the board that commits them to dedicating the money from the meals tax to fund teacher’s pay increases. The Bottom line is that you should expect more of the same. More property tax increases, more unfocused school spending, more social experiments and a school system that has seen its better days.

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