As Fairfax County residents are receiving a meals tax fact sheet in the mail, advocates on both sides of the issue are organizing for a battle this fall.
The meals tax referendum will be on the Fairfax County general election ballot on Nov. 8. It’s the first time since 1992 that voters will get a say on whether the county will add a meals tax to diversify its tax base. The 1992 referendum failed, and while the topic has been brought up nearly annually in recent recent years, it has not been presented to the voters.
The 4-percent meals tax would add about $100 million to county coffers annually, according to the fact sheet. About 70 percent would go back to Fairfax County Public Schools. The other 30 percent would go to county programs and services.
The 4-percent tax would be in addition to a 6-percent sales tax. Nearby jurisdictions such as the District of Columbia, Arlington and Alexandria have a meals tax, as do towns of Vienna, Herndon, Clifton, Falls Church and Fairfax City (those towns’ rates would stay the same; diners would not pay an additional county tax).
Not surprisingly, many school board members and civic groups fall in favor of the tax, while many restaurant owners are against it.
The food tax foes have organized into a new group called Fairfax Families Against the Food Tax.
Fairfax Families Against the Food Tax says it has about 1,500 individuals, as well as a host of businesses behind it. Included in the businesses are Reston restaurants American Tap Room; Be Right Burger; Clyde’s; Glory Days Grill; the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce; Hyatt Regency Reston; Jackson’s; and Silver Diner.
The group says the 4-percent tax on top of the 6-percent sales tax for all prepared foods and ready-to-eat meals from restaurants, grocery stores, movie theaters, gas stations, food trucks, hot dog stands, coffee shops, pizza delivery, and hotel food will be too much burden on some customers.
“This isn’t just a meals tax,” Jon Norton, Partner at Great American Restaurants (which includes Jackson’s), said in a statement. “In reality, it’s much broader than that because it adds an extra tax on people and families who are trying to buy prepared food items or even dine out as a family at their favorite restaurant. This really is a food tax.”
Coalition members say the tax will hit low- and middle-income people hardest. That’s a group that also relies heavily on prepared foods as they deal with demanding work schedules.
Meanwhile, proponents of the meals tax have organized Invest in Fairfax. Invest in Fairfax is embarking on a Vote Yes Meals Tax campaign.
The group says this is a crucial time for Fairfax County Public Schools.
“For just a few pennies more, we can support our kids, keep our community safe and vibrant, and relieve homeowners,” said Kimberly Adams, president of the Fairfax County Council of PTAs and a Vote Yes Meals Tax campaign chair. “We’re asking voters to get informed, get involved, and get out to vote.”
Backing Invest in Fairfax are the Arts Council of Fairfax County; Fairfax County Council of PTAs; Fairfax County Federation of Teachers; Fairfax County Professional Firefighters & Paramedics; Fairfax Education Association; and the League of Women Voters, among others.
David Edelman, chair of Invest in Fairfax, calls the meals tax a “win-win for everyone in our community” as it will stop annual property tax hikes in order to fully fund county and school services.
“Voting yes on this referendum is a vote to prevent property tax hikes and protect our schools, as well as support health, safety and other human services that support our quality of life in the county,” Edelman said in a statement.
Fairfax Families Against the Food Tax says the county needs better spending controls, not a meals tax.
“Giving government hundreds of millions of dollars more every year will only make the spending problem worse and won’t solve any problems at all,” Ed Hardy, Chef and Owner of Reston-based Bacon N’ Ed’s Mobile Gourmet Kitchen, says.