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Op-Ed: Vote No on Fairfax County Meals Tax

by RestonNow.com — September 23, 2016 at 11:30 am 22 Comments

Ted's BulletinThis is an op-ed by Frank Sullivan of Chantilly. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

In the Nov. 8 General Election, a meals tax ballot question will ask Fairfax Country voters to allow the Board of Supervisors to impose an additional tax on prepared foods. Below are six reasons why voters should vote (Vote No) against the imposition of this meals tax:

  1. The tax on prepared foods in the county will increase to 10 percent, a 4-percent meals tax plus the current 6-percent state sales tax. This tax will not only apply to what one purchases in restaurants, but to all prepared foods and beverages regardless of where purchased (grocery stores, restaurants, lunchrooms, cafeterias taverns, coffee shops, cafes, delis, food trucks, etc.).
  1. The ballot question leads one to believe the meals tax will reduce the dependency on real estate taxes. The facts are the Board recently approved a property tax increase of $1.13 per $100 which represents an increase of 6 percent to the average homeowner. This now represents an increase of 26 percent over 5 years. The average annual Real Estate tax bill will increase $304, this on top of the $185 increase from last year. Over the last two years, the Board also has voted to increase stormwater taxes, sewer service charges, and youth athletic fees all the while voting to raise their own pay by 27 percent. If anyone believes the meals tax will provide property tax relief, recall that the Board promised to eliminate the Car Tax (i.e., personal property tax) — we are still paying the Car Tax. Enough is enough on more taxes.
  1. While there are exceptions to the meals tax, the exceptions will only apply to very few living in the country. This is a regressive tax that will impact the hard working middle class and those that can least afford it, including minorities and senior citizens.
  1. The Board would have voters believe that a portion of the meals tax revenue will be used for capital improvements and property tax relief and that the majority of the revenue would lead to higher teacher pay and funding for school classrooms. The truth is this revenue can go to various fund, including what the county budget generically calls ‘county services’. The Board also has shown it cannot be trusted to apply any of this revenue to property tax relief (again remember the Car Tax relief).
  1. The Board would have voters believe the country budget still suffers the impacts of sequestration. Supervisor Pat Herrity (Springfield) has identified areas of the budget that could be cut such as developer proffers and the $1 million earmarked for the Supervisors’ offices ($100,000 each) but has been ignored by the Board. If this were a responsible Board they would be willing to set priorities and address its fiscal issues, including conducting a review of the County’s spending and a review of the budget for waste before raising taxes once again
  1. Once this tax is passed, there is no guarantee that this tax will not increase.

Please join the Fairfax Families Against the Food Tax by voting NO to the meals tax question on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Frank W. Sullivan

Something on your mind? Send opinion letters to [email protected]. Reston Now reserves the right to edit letters for clarity.

  • One Really

    Item 1. Stop the tax in November.
    Item 2. We need to change the leadership in Fairfax County. The supervisors are worst than my children asking for money. Atleast my kids know they only have limited funds. These people are like leeches on my wallet.

    • June Smith

      The same day we received the information mailing – saying that 70% of the tax would be allocated for school programs, I sent emails to Supervisors Bulova and Hudgins, asking which programs would benefit … and still waiting for an answer.

      If nearly $70 million of the revenue generated is allocated to fund school programs – you would think responsible “bean counters” would have a detailed list of the programs and how they will benefit. NOTHING! This does not pass the “smell test”

      Vote NO for the Food Tax

  • static

    Don’t forget they are building a $150M new building at the government center for 700 staff (over 200k per person), while 17.5M sq ft of office space sits open (a 15% vacancy rate) across the county.

  • Rational Reston

    Car Tax Relief is not a valid argument for or against the Meals Tax as the Car Tax Relief comes from the State and not the County. The Car Tax has always been there, but the State pays the county as the relief to owners.

    “Under Virginia law — the Personal Property Tax Relief Act of 1998 (PPTRA, also known as the “No Car Tax” legislation) — the State planned to subsidize 100% of the taxes on personal use vehicle assessments below $20,000 by the year 2002. In passing this law, the State effectively pledged state revenue to pay local governments throughout the Commonwealth a subsidy in lieu of personal property taxes that local governments would have otherwise collected directly from taxpayers. At present, the State pays approximately 62% of the bill, and the taxpayer pays the remaining 38%. These rates are subject to change annually. The taxpayer must pay the full amount of taxes on any vehicle assessment that exceeds $20,000. Only personal use vehicles qualify for PPTRA.

    The law always had a stipulation that if the growth in state revenue did not reach certain levels, the amount of state subsidy would be frozen at the current level. Because of the slowdown in state revenue, the State has capped the local subsidies to a fixed amount to be distributed among qualifying vehicles in each jurisdiction.”

    To further on point #2, absolutely the Board has increased property tax, but don’t fall into the trap of the rate, check the net bill to homeowners (which will go up) as it is rate x assessed value. Because many supervisors will say they decreased the property tax but the value of a home has risen so there is more money coming out of a taxpayers pocket. But for this year, wouldn’t it be irresponsible for the BOS to assume that the Meals Tax would be enacted and they could collect the money right away? In a perfect world next year (or the year after) would be when you may expect to start seeing the effect of the Meals Tax on other rates.

  • cRAzy

    Amen to all of the above.

    The most egregious part is the over-reach on the types of meals/food that will be taxed. If its just restaurants/bars/fast food places, that might be OK because eating there is optional. But this is a FOOD tax, not a meals tax. The supermarket is not an appropriate place to add taxes to purchases. The result is a highly regressive tax on lower income households.

    Stop the meals tax! Vote “NO” on this county tax revenue grab (again–yes, it’s been tried before and failed).

    And, on the other side of the ledger, the Board needs to figure out a way to MANAGE WITHIN ITS MEANS rather than simply look for more and more tax revenue streams, including the “special” Reston transportation property tax on the transit station areas. And, don’t worry, they will look for even more tax revenue streams whether or not these two initiatives are approved.

  • John Higgins

    Robust, honest debate on this tax proposal involves both stating a view and listening to others. I’m not yet comfortable with either a yes or no in November beacause there are strong arguments on both sides of this issue. But I am concerned about the integrity of the information that informs our opinions. Today I read a point of view from “Fairfax Families Against the Food Tax”. Families? This is an organization of restaurants, hotels, and other business interests concerned about their interests, not the welfare of Fairfax families. (Recruiting a relatively small number of individuals to join doesn’t change the essence of their interests).

    “This is a regresive tax…” I suppose using the term regressive is intended to stir contempt Apart from the income tax, what tax or fee is not regressive? Every meal, product or service offered to eveyone as the same price/rate is regressive. That simply means that the greater one’s resources, the less impact it has. Duh.

    The underlying objection I read (here and elsewhere) is the growing demand on us to finance the level of goverenment delivered by our representatives. Fair enough.. But in this context, the assumption is that rejection of the food tax will somehow limit the increasing demands by our school board or county government. If that turns out not to be true, unlikely from a historical perspective, then real estate tax (over which we individually have no control) wil go up. Choose your poison.

    • One really

      Or choose an elected government that can control its spending.

      Example 1: Does FCPD really need a new scheme for its police cruisers?
      Example 2: How about consolidation of Fairfax county’s IT. Does every department need its own infrastructure and staff? If you were a business it would be offloaded to datacenters and support centers consolided.

      • BOHICA

        Do we need a new library in Reston? NO

        • June Smith

          We need more locations for day laborers to congregate – since the Herndon Day Labor Center was closed (by the people). YET — there is a still a $700,000 budget line item for day labor centers – about 10% of the revenue expected to be generated from the Food Tax.

          If the County looked around in the budget for other line items like this, they would probably find more than enough to offset the projected Food Tax revenue

    • Mike M

      Honest debate? I read your arguments:
      1) Someone used “families: in their opposition group’s name and you don’t like that.
      2) It’s regressive tax,but so are others.
      3) If we don’t pass this one, they might add new taxes later.
      Sir, you have no argument.

      • John Higgins

        Thank you for so astutely pointing out the obvious. No argument was found because none was being made. Perhaps I erred in asking people to “listen” when I should have said “read”.
        1, It’s not a matter of liking the use of the word families in a group name. I was suggesting an integrity problem with a group of businesses who hold themselves out as an organization of families.
        2. Regressive = unacceptable? I would be satisfied with tax = unacceptable. The adjective adds nothing to the discussion.
        3. My point must have been obscure. I don’t believe that either the passage or rejection of the tax referendum will limit the government’s appetite for higher revenue. I’ll take a pass on that debating point and look for more realistic arguments to help with a decision.

    • Scott H

      If you don’t like the “families” moniker, do you like BoG using “the kids” to justify a new way to tax the tax-payer?

      • John Higgins

        Point taken

      • Guest

        Apples and oranges. Government’s mandate actually includes educating and caring for kids. Businesses claiming to represent the interests of families when their purpose is to run a profit is disingenuous at best.

        Might as well trust “Doctors Against Vaccinations”.

        • Scott H

          So much wrong with your reply. Why are politicians more trustworthy than non-politicians? Think about what you are saying.
          The fact is, if you look at history, politicians always use some emotional plea – “The kids dammit!” – to garner votes for a new tax. After passage however, it simply allows the pols to redirect the old money away from “the kids” to other budget lines. It’s a classic bait and switch and you are the patsy!

          Beyond that, the entire premise of your post is wrong.
          1. Govt schools were not prevalent until around 1900 or so, but have since created a virtual monopoly on education through the tax system. Not exactly a “mandate” for educating kids. Most would take their kids out of public schools if it didn’t mean paying for education twice(Tax + tuition)
          2. “Caring for kids” is found no where in any government charter. Caring for kids is a mandate for the parents who chose to have them. No where is there a mandate for you to pay for the care of my kids. Wise up!

          • Guest

            Caring for children should be motivated by love and duty, not profit.

            You failed to address trusting the corporations of “Fairfax Families Against the Food Tax” to actually represent the interests of families. Politicians aren’t inherently more or less trustworthy than non-politicians, but governing is their job. Government is literally tasked by the populace to operate public education so, yes, it’s a mandate. Nobody voted for Applebee’s.

            I haven’t found any proof of your claim that that most parents would pull their children from public school. But I suspect many wouldn’t, if they knew how private schools fail students:

            https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/02/090226093423.htm

            Again, government educates children because we’ve told it to. But more importantly and much more directly, teachers are deeply motivated to instruct, to correct, to inspire, and, yes, to care.

    • Fairfax Watcher

      John, well said and correctly structured!! THE most important fact that has yet to appear in the many blogs is that the BIG spender here is the FCPSchools, NOT the BOS! Virginia state code(law) requires the BOS to fund the schools while having no control/authority over the School Board (SB) spending. When did anyone see an audit of the SB spending? The SB is given 2+ Billion dollars a year to spend …and where is the accounting for this expenditure??
      Residents should be “up in arms” at the SB NOT the BOS. The BOS does deserve some grief but do not blame them for FCPS spending!!!
      Vote yes for the meals tax as it is the only real fair tax!

  • Greg

    Agree. Vote NO.

  • Mike

    I have two children in Fairfax County schools and am not an anti-tax person generally but I oppose the meals tax. First and foremost, over the past 10 years or so, there has been a tremendous increase in taxes and cost of living in this area. The sales tax has risen from 4.5% to 6.0%, the Toll Road has gone from $1 to $3.50 from Reston to the Beltway, transit fares have nearly doubled to get from Reston to DC by the Silver Line compared to the previous (faster) buses, and property taxes have increased considerably. I don’t know how lower income people can even afford to live here anymore. It is misleading to call this a 4% meals tax and in the literature to compare this to the 10% tax in DC. The tax on meals will be 10%, meaning that a family of four going out to an $80 dinner will be paying $8 in tax plus tip, making this an increasingly infrequent luxury. For those who were concerned about paying $2 per hour to park at Reston Town Center, why not then drive out to Loudoun County or elsewhere to save the extra $2-4 for every restaurant trip? I am tired of seeing the tax on everything go up so much and be so regressive on working families. Better to stick with the property tax than add another regressive tax.

    • BOHICA

      I think it’s unfair to “stick” it to increasing property tax. The county, FCPS & RA needs to trim their budgets. They are so wasteful. The county is a magnet for those seeking handouts.

      • Scott H

        There is already a tax on renters. It’s part of their rent.
        The landlord pays a mortgage, taxes, upkeep and charges a renter some premium (hopefully) above that total to compensate them for the risk and headaches of ownership.

        If you want to create a specific tax on Renters, they would be paying property tax twice.

        Maybe we should ask Govt to do less instead of asking people to pay for the benefit of politicians.

    • pmruiz

      “Faster busses”? I used to take the 505 to and from WFC; I believe you’re misinformed. SV service from Wiehle is a major improvement over what we had before.

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