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Op-Ed: Reasons Why Fairfax Needs a Meals Tax

by RestonNow.com — October 3, 2016 at 11:30 am 140 Comments

FCPS School Board member Pat HynesThis is an Op-Ed from Pat Hynes, Fairfax County Public School Board’s Hunter Mill representative, about the Meals Tax referendum that will put to county voters on Nov. 8. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

If you had told me, when I was running for school board five years ago, that I would spend so much time talking about money and taxes, I might have been a little discouraged. But advocating for revenue is part of the job — the people of this community expect excellent schools with world-class curricular and extracurricular programs, and we’re smart enough to know that you get what you pay for in this life.

I learned early on that school funding in Virginia has some serious structural challenges — we send at least three times as much revenue down to Richmond as we get back for our schools and other critical public services. And then Richmond ties our hands when it comes to raising revenue locally for local needs.

A meals tax is one of very few options available to local governments, which is why two-thirds of Virginia counties — and most towns and cities — have adopted a meals tax to help balance their reliance on property taxes.

Local revenue since 2008 has not kept pace with growing population and rising costs. That is certainly true for the school system. Between 2008 and 2015, the gap between revenue and needs was so wide that by fiscal year 2015 the school system was spending $1000 less per child — in real dollars — than in 2008. We got there by freezing teacher pay and raising class sizes several times, and annual cuts to central office.

Being lean is a good thing — we are stewards of the public’s resources and we take that responsibility seriously. In 2013, the state paid for a comprehensive efficiency study of FCPS by Gibson Consulting. The Gibson report found just $10 million in potential savings, all of which the school system implemented in the first year. According to the Washington Area Boards of Education comparison guide, FCPS has far and away the leanest central office in the region, which includes other large systems with similar economies of scale.

We also, unfortunately, have one of the lowest teacher salary scales in the region — $5-10,000 a year lower than market average and as much as $20,000 a year lower than neighboring Arlington County. And our elementary class sizes are some of the highest in the region.

Last year, this community advocated loud and clear for the school system, and the BOS responded with a shot in the arm that has allowed us to make some important reinvestments, including bringing our teacher salary scale halfway to market average. That was great news, but we have further to go — and the 4-cent property tax increase that paid for that extra revenue is simply  not a sustainable approach going forward.

Most surrounding jurisdictions in Northern Virginia have a meals tax. When we eat in Arlington, Alexandria, Falls Church, Fairfax City, Vienna or Herndon, we are helping those communities pay for their important public services and high quality of life. If we want to keep our great teachers — and the families and companies who choose Fairfax County for its great schools — it’s time for Fairfax County to get up to speed and implement a modest meals tax.

Finally, I have heard the claims about a meals tax being regressive. With 65,000 Fairfax students living in poverty, you can be sure that the school system is on the front lines daily attending to their educational and personal needs. The extent to which a lower-income family pays a small tax on prepared meals strengthens our ability to serve their children effectively. Those pennies on the dollar are repaid to them many times over.

Photo: Pat Hynes/FCPS

  • MJay

    I understand the points in favor of (and against) the meals tax, but it appears like homeowners in Reston are getting nickle and dimed to the point of exhaustion. Besides federal and state taxes, we pay sales taxes and the personal property tax (“car tax”) to Fairfax County. Some of us also pay taxes as part of the special district. In addition, many of us have cluster or comparable HOA dues. There also is the Toll Road and the uncompromising parking fees at the Reston Town Center penciled in for the new year that are based on a canard of commuter abuse. And then there are our Reston Association dues, which is perhaps the most frustrating expense of them all based on RA’s demonstrable mismanagement of finances from its board and CEO (i.e. Tetra, potential increases to approx. $720, etc).

    These expenses, whether they are technically taxes or not, combined with child care, school fees, and everything else, culminate in a tipping point, even for people who make good salaries. As such, I am not voting for the meals tax nor will I be guilted into doing so. Perhaps if the local government manages its finances better, and other entities such as RA gets it act together by maintaining or lowering our dues, will I be more open to financial endeavors such as the meals tax.

    • EliteinReston

      MJay zeroes in on the way many of us feel, living in a high cost area with so many taxes, fees, the Reston assessment and most recently the insult of a parking fee at the Reston Town Center. I am close to supporting the meals tax based on Ms. Hynes’ good faith effort to defend it. But she needed a good editor who would have flipped the second half of her column–starting with “Being lean is a good thing”–with the opening “advocating for revenue” half. Those of us reaching that tipping point want advocates for cutting spending and for better management. I wish the schools community would make a stronger case showing what they would do with the money. [I also don’t get why they scheduled a tax-increase question in a presidential election year when turnout will be high. Or why the school superintendent couldn’t wait until the election was over before she bailed on Fairfax?]

      • RestonGrandma

        I agree with this 100%. I have lived in Reston 45 years and am now retired on a fixed income. I don’t get raises but everyone else does. And we are somehow expected to pay for the infrastructure that the developers will profit from. We who live here will not get any benefit from this but are expected to pay and pay. I can’t afford to live in Reston much longer which seems unfair to those of us who took a leap of faith in Bob Simon years ago and came “way out here”. I’m going to vote against this.

        • BGEMD 9406

          RestonGrandma, part of the Meals Tax is intended to expand existing county property tax relief programs for persons living on fixed incomes.

        • Birdman73

          But you do get a benefit. Better schools mean higher housing values and more businesses coming to the area. Better schools means lower unemployment and less crime. Just because you don;t have kids in the school system does not mean you don;t benefit from a quality school system.

    • RestonGrandma

      I think this is going to fail not because people are unwilling to do more for schools as that this alone has to be voted on. For Reston residents there has been a steady stream of decisions that we are not getting to vote on that the BoS just decides on: property tax increase even though values have risen; special tax district to pay for infrastructure; endless planning commission approval of excessive development. Add the BP sticking us with unjustified parking fees; RA’s purchase of Tetra (I know there was a “referendum” but RA sent out slanted information that only showed the positive side of the purchase) and now we hear that fees will need to increased a lot to cover this poor decision. All these things were imposed on us; now along comes something that we get to say no to and I think most people will say no. If there hadn’t been so much pocket-picking done, I think people would have agreed to this. There comes a time when people have just had enough and I think the schools are going to pay the price for everyone’s greed.

  • Mike M

    “so much time talking about money and taxes.”
    Psst! It’s really about management. Ever think about management? Talk about Management.

    “we’re smart enough to know that you get what you pay for . . .”
    If we don’t agree with you, we’re not smart? Got it. So, with the mindset that paying more buys better, where would it ever end?

    “we send at least three times as much revenue down to Richmond as we get back”
    So, we need to keep feeding the beast or fix that problem with better representation in Richmond. (Did you clear this point with Ken Plum?)

    “Local revenue since 2008 has not kept pace with growing population and rising . costs.”
    This would be a management problem at the County and School Board level. Start to address it by identify the structural reasons for that and look at alternatives.

    “The Gibson report found just $10 million in potential savings.”
    I can do better. You have to look at their assumptions about what is potential and not.

    “We also, unfortunately, have one of the lowest teacher salary scales in the region.”
    So WHERE are you spending it? Again, basic management challenge.

    “Most surrounding jurisdictions in Northern Virginia have a meals tax.”
    Jimmy and Sallie jumped off the cliff, so . . . we should too?

    “I have heard the claims about a meals tax being regressive.”
    It is and you did not really address this point, nor did you explain how “[t]hose pennies on the dollar are repaid to them many times over.”

  • Ming the Merciless

    Local revenue since 2008 has not kept pace with growing population and
    rising costs. That is certainly true for the school system. Between 2008
    and 2015, the gap between revenue and needs was so wide that by fiscal
    year 2015 the school system was spending $1000 less per child — in real
    dollars — than in 2008.

    STOP using the DISHONEST benchmark of 2008!

    FCPS budget rose from 2001 to 2008 due to the real estate bubble. It has fallen since then but you are STILL higher, in real dollars, than where you were in 2001.

    FCPS is spending over $2100 more per student (in real dollars) today relative to 2001.

    FCPS is spending over $14,000 more per Full Time Equivalent (in real dollars) today relative to 2001.

    Thus, in real dollars, expenditures on students have INCREASED 18% since 2001, and expenditures on teachers has INCREASED 15% since 2001.

    Stop whining about your revenue gap. You are getting plenty more and you’re spending plenty more than what you had in 2001. Of course you have an insatiable desire for even more money but there is a limit to how much the taxpayers can and should satiate you.

    • AlliD

      This is very important and really adds to the discussion. I’d love to hear Pat Hynes take on this, the numbers being higher than 2001. The more research I do the stronger I feel to vote no.

    • Curious

      Just curious – when you say expenditures on teachers have increased 15% since 2001 are you referring to salary? Or something else, Because if it’s salary, then that increase equates to 1% per year… hardly seems like much. Likewise the expenditure on students is only 1.2%. Maybe I’m missing something here?

      • Ming the Merciless

        Salary and benefits.

        What you’re missing is that inflation is factored out. I encourage everyone to use the inflation calculator to determine how much their salary has increased in real dollars since 2001. Mine is 16%. In short, I have gotten about that same “1% a year” in real dollars that the FCPS teachers have received. So when teachers say their compensation is lagging, everyone should tell them to talk to the hand.

        (If you didn’t factor out inflation then expenditure on salary & benefits per teacher has increased 58% since 2001.)

        As for the expenditure on students, there is no compelling reason expenditure per student, in real dollars, should EVER rise in real dollars.

        • DW

          I think you’re neglecting the massive increase in overall cost of living here. Fairfax is now one of the most expensive places to live in the nation.

          • Ming the Merciless

            Not relevant. It is more expensive for everybody not just teachers. Teacher pay and benefits have risen faster than private sector pay and benefits. There is no reason to expect taxpayers to ensure that government workers improve their standard of living faster than taxpayers do.

          • BGEMD 9406

            See earlier comment. There is no basis to assert that teacher salaries are increasing faster than private sector pay. Moreover, you are disregarding the many economic benefits of investing in teacher salaries. Every $1 invested in FCPS returns $1.20 in economic benefits to Fairfax County residents.

            Source: https://www.fcps.edu/about-fcps/budget/economic-impact-report

          • Ming the Merciless

            The basis to assert that teacher salaries are increasing faster than private sector pay is BLS salary statistics.

            That economic impact report is laughable. If the tax dollars were not given to FCPS then taxpayers would spend that money somewhere else in Fairfax County.

          • One Really

            “Every $1 invested in FCPS returns $1.20 in economic benefits to Fairfax County residents.”
            Examples please!

        • BGEMD 9406

          Ming, you cannot look at FCPS teacher salaries in a vacuum — you also have to look at teacher salaries in neighboring jurisdictions. We live in a county where teachers can easily move to neighboring jurisdictions — Alexandria and Arlington, among others — to earn $10-20K more. FCPS is suffering because of the pay gap, which is pronounced at Years 5-20. Any FCPS principal will tell you that he/she lost multiple teachers last year and the year before. FCPS had 200 teacher positions open at the beginning of last year and this year, which has never happened before. Why? Because the pay is not competitive. If the Meals Tax fails, FCPS will not have the resources to make teacher pay competitive, and we will continue to hemorrhage teachers. The quality of our schools is contingent upon the quality of our teachers, and make no mistake, we are losing the best, not the worst, teachers. Strong schools = high property values = good quality of life. You change the quality of schools, then property values decline and quality of life suffers.

          • Ming the Merciless

            OK, so let’s look at neighboring jurisdictions. Specifically, let’s look at the many neighboring jurisdictions that pay teachers LESS than Fairfax County does. If we lose teachers to Arlington then we can easily replace them from Prince William or Prince George. Because this is easy. Right?

            Examination of the relative pay simply does not support the view that FCPS is not competitive. And there is one thing FCPS is emphatically NOT eager to tell you: Fairfax County total compensation (salary PLUS benefits) is totally competitive with all other counties in the area. FCPS offers excellent benefits.

            I don’t believe FCPS is losing lots of teachers to Arlington and MoCo. For one thing, the pay jump those teachers would get from moving there is nowhere near enough to afford a comparable house in those counties.

            If the Meals Tax fails, FCPS will not have the resources to make teacher pay competitive,

            It is already competitive.

            The quality of our schools is contingent upon the quality of our teachers

            Disagree. Quality of our schools is contingent on the quality of our students. Take the teachers from the best school, swap them with the teachers from the worst school, and the performance of neither school would change.

            Strong schools = high property values = good quality of life. You change the quality of schools, then property values decline and quality of life suffers.

            Property values, like the strength of schools and the “quality of life”, are largely driven by demographic inputs not teacher pay.

    • Pat Hynes

      2008 is hardly a random benchmark for conversations about the economy. I’m sure we all recall that 2008 saw the deepest global economic crash since the Great Depression, and we are still digging out. 2008 is a pivotal year for any discussion of economic activity, private or public. It is true that the years prior to 2008 were good years for public services in Fairfax County, solidifying our reputation as a great place to live. Some of the savings taken in the lean years since 2008 have been wise, but we’ve cut as much as we can without fundamentally devaluing the system. Don’t take my word for that – the 2013 independent Gibson Study proves that FCPS is extremely lean, as does the WABE Guide comparisons to surrounding districts. The question about spending is not whether FCPS is efficiently managed – it is – but whether this community wants a world-class school system. I have no doubt about that.

      • BOHICA

        Why did the school board give themselves a 100% raise?

      • BGE

        You may hate taxes and distrust politicians, but that is irrelevant. The county needs more revenue, period. It can come from a property tax increase OR the meals tax. The property tax is paid 100% by Fairfax County residents, but the meals tax is paid 1/3 by tourist and commuters who eat here but don’t live here. That is FREE money available for us to keep and invest in our schools and community.

        If you want to use 2001 as a benchmark, then here is a fun fact. Your property tax rates are LOWER than 2001. So we can revert to higher property tax rates, with higher assessments than 2001, or we can use the meals tax. Your call.

        • BOHICA

          Trim wast & fraud from the school budget. Roll back the raise the school board gave to themselves!

        • Ming the Merciless

          Fun fact. Real estate prices were LOWER in 2001 than they are now. I will gladly pay a real estate tax at the higher 2001 rate if the county uses the 2001 assessment of my property.

        • EuropeWatcher

          But I get to write off my property taxes – not so with a meals tax. No thanks.

      • Ming the Merciless

        The 2008 financial crash is not relevant. What drove the large rise in FCPS funding from 2001 to 2008 was the real estate bubble. Real estate prices, as you well know, are the basis for tax assessments. The bubble actually peaked in about 2006, before the 2008 crash. When the bubble burst, real estate prices dropped and as a result county tax revenue had to fall – and with it, the amount of money allocated to schools – no matter how badly FCPS wanted to keep the gravy train rolling.

        There is no reason not to take 2001 as the baseline rather than 2008. The 2001 FCPS budget was undistorted by the bubble and you are doing very well, in 2016, relative to that baseline. To use the “bubble” year of 2008 as the baseline makes it seem like you are being short-changed, which is of course exactly why you are doing it.

        It would not “fundamentally devalue” FCPS to use the 2001 baseline. The County had a world class school system in 2001. Indeed, I dare say that in many respects we had a better school system then than we do now.

    • DW

      Of course the cost of education has risen since 2001! Since then we’ve had over a decade of under or unfunded state and federal mandates, significant testing implementation, and a marked shift in student demographics.

      Our education systems are now more responsive to English language learners, special education students, emotionally challenged students, and less financially advantaged students. This is good, but it costs money. Which I for one am happy to pay to have an excellent school district where I live.

      • Ming the Merciless

        Saying that the “cost has risen” presumes that the cost needed to rise. It didn’t. We have put more money into education, but this was not a necessary expenditure or an effective one.

        The “outputs” gained from money spent on English language learners, special education students, emotionally
        challenged students, and less financially advantaged students is incommensurate with the financial input.

      • feminva

        based on a special ed needs local meeting I attended recently, I learned that for the kids who don’t show a mental or physical impairment — there is STILL after ca 30 years since my kids were in school — there is little if any support for kids who have, for example, ADD. I was shocked to find these parents are fighting the same battles as did I and other at the same school and school district. One of my kids benefited very little from the ‘aids’ given back then, so I disagree and am (still) bitter about it. — oh, but the SCHOOL became a “magnet school– yeh kudos to the then school principal (NOT).”

    • BGEMD 9406

      Ming, I appreciate your efforts to provide analytics to inform the public, but you are omitting vital information. You say the budget has increased since 2001. True, but that is only half the equation. When you are calculating spending PER STUDENT, you need to consider the NUMBER OF STUDENTS, which has increased significantly since 2001. The number of students has increased at a faster rate than the budget, so spending PER STUDENT has decreased by $1000 in real dollars, compared to 2008.

      • Ming the Merciless

        Dude. Math. When you calculate spending per student, by definition you consider the number of students. That’s the number you divide into the budget to get spending per student. I did that calculation, and yes, spending per student has increased over $2,100 per student even though there are now over 27,000 more students than in 2001.

        • BGEMD 9406

          Dude, your math is wrong. Check the data available online in the FCPS budget. $1,000 DECREASE in real dollars from 2008 to now.

          • Ming the Merciless

            Dude. I did the math. Using numbers from FCPS budget site.

  • cRAzy

    What world are you living in?
    Instead of finding more ways to extract taxes, tolls, fees, etc., from all of us, figure out how to manage to a budget.
    The core of your argument is “everyone else is doing it, spending more, etc”. Why must we be so stupid?

    • Ming the Merciless

      They can’t “manage their budget” because they do not control the number of people who move here who, um, can’t really pay to sustain the system for reasons that are obvious but Cannot Be Mentioned.

      Teachers are not going to oppose the relentless influx of new students until it is made clear to them that they are going to have to teach more and more students per classroom for less and less money.

      So teachers, it is in your interest to write to Federal officials to get that situation under control. Merely appealing to taxpayers for more money is not going to work.

      • UmUm

        Um, they pay taxes, and, um, they pay SS taxes, and, um, they are never going to collect SS benefits, and, um, the “regressive” tax is going to hit um the hardest. “Um” is a generic word used to mean “There is no need for backup facts, if you repeat something more than once it becomes a de-facto fact”.

        • Mike M

          They pay property taxes? No.
          They are very expensive to educate? Yes.

          • Chuck Morningwood

            Pay property taxes? Well, yes, if they rent or if they hold a mortgage. Those items are included within the payment.

            But to your larger point, the amount they pay in taxes is dwarfed by the amount they cost the government.

          • BGEMD 9406

            False. It is the rich like Trump who do not pay taxes.

          • BOHICA

            Let’s not bring politics into this. But since you did, why don’t you look into the Clinton’s finances. Actually you sound like harry reid…making false accusations about things you know nothing about. Shameful!

          • BGE

            Bohica, please calm down. No need to get angry or discombobulated. It is not just rich individuals, it is also rich companies like Apple and GE that pay nothing in taxes. All of that is verified in media reports. No conjecture required.

        • Ming the Merciless

          Um, if you think they pay into the system anything near what they take out of it, you’re, um, seriously deluded.

    • One Really

      I avoid buying food in the TOH because of the tax.

  • Ming the Merciless

    We also, unfortunately, have one of the lowest teacher salary scales in
    the region — $5-10,000 a year lower than market average and as much as
    $20,000 a year lower than neighboring Arlington County.

    FY 2016 salary information does not support this claim. At Step 1 with a bachelor’s degree, FCPS teachers get paid $2,300 less than the highest paid comparison (Falls Church City) but is roughly the same as Alexandria & Montgomery, and more than Manassas City, Prince George County, and Prince William County.

    At Step 1 with a Master’s Degree, FCPS salaries are no lower than $2,000 under the other counties, and are HIGHER than Manassas City, Prince George County, and Prince William County.

    The lowest teacher salaries in the region are PG and PW counties. Hey maybe we should hire some of their teachers!

    As FCPS gets 8 to 10 applicants per position for every teaching job, the idea that we are “unattractive” compared to other counties in the region is simply untenable.

    • BGEMD 9406

      Ming, the salary gap exists at Years 5-20, so it is misleading to compare Step 1 (Year 1) salaries. The School Board has published a study online about the salary gap, and recordings of School Board meetings about the salary gap are also available online. Here is a helpful article with a snapshot of salary differentials: https://www.restonnow.com/2015/12/08/study-teaching-in-fcps-a-six-figure-career-salary-sacrifice/

      • Ming the Merciless

        Any long-term teacher in Fairfax County who is unsatisfied with the maximum salary of $101k because there are teachers in Arlington maxing at $111k can feel free to leave. Cry me a river.

        • One Really

          Well said! If they are commuting from points west or even from Fairfax to Arlington that additional 10K isn’t worth it.

          Tolls
          Traffic
          Additional commute time
          Metro

        • Birdman73

          First, it’s not just leaving for other counties … in the past five years, droves of teachers have left for government and private sector jobs because the salaries aren’t competitive to the amount of work required to do the job. The end result is a lower quality instructional staff. But it costs more than that. When a veteran teacher leaves and a rookie teacher comes in, the county must spend extra money on training and support. You may save in a lower salary, but the end result is often a lower quality of instruction and additional resources having to be directed to make up the difference.

          • Ming the Merciless

            Teaching SHOULD NOT pay more than the private sector. No government job should pay more than an equivalent job in the private sector.

            Your belief in the importance of “quality” instructional staff is naively amusing.

  • Chuck Morningwood

    Thank you for your thoughtful editorial, Ms. Hynes. I do agree that we need to diversify our tax base. As such, technically, I’m not against a meals tax.

    With that said, from a budgetary standpoint, too much of my income is going to pay taxes and various governmental fees. When the BoS decides to reduce the real estate tax significantly, I might be able to bear the cost of a meals tax. However, unless and until that happens, my vote is going to be “No” for the meals tax.

    • One really

      I am sure she hopes we forget this co-ed before her term expires.

      Current term expires 12/31/19

      Candidates usually don’t support new taxes if they’re on the chopping block.

      • Pat Hynes

        I’m sure you will remind me. And if you forget, I’ll put it on my campaign mailer – that I advocated for a modest meals tax as a smart revenue option for this community.

        • One Really

          I won’t forget I promise. I would check the blank space before Hudgins, Plum, and you. Any tax on the electoral is to much.

          Instead of sending me a newsletter.

          How about you advocate for wiser spending.

          How about your next hire as Superintendent be a little more responsible with taxpayer money. All I hear is (whine) more money.
          How about you advocate for smarter ways to do things within FCPS that could save money. Just case it was like this when you were a teacher doesnt mean it still needs to be.
          How about you advocate for consolidate of services within FCPS.
          Examples:
          Backoffice functions
          Overlap of personnel
          IT
          PS: Can the teachers please stop telling my kids that FCPS is broke and thats why their parents need to vote yes?
          If you want names I got them.

          • Greg

            Bravo!

    • Pat Hynes

      The meals tax will bring in an additional $100 million – equivalent to the 4-cent property tax we just started paying. One advantage of the meals tax is that, unlike property taxes, 28% of the meals tax will be paid by commuters and visitors – people who don’t live in the county. Also, while dining out is not always a luxury, it is always a choice. We have no choice about paying property taxes. The meals tax will relieve pressure on property taxes. That’s why the overwhelming majority of towns, cities and counties in Virginia have adopted the meals tax.

      • BOHICA

        I cannot afford to eat out. I do purchase prepared food @ the grocery store & the meals tax will increase the tax to 10%. Call it what it is….a food & beverage tax! You doubled your salary not mine. No to the tax!

        • BGEMD 9406

          You cannot afford to eat out, but you have time to post inaccurate comments on news articles?!

      • Chuck Morningwood

        In the cosmic scheme of things, Ms. Hynes, you do have a choice on your property taxes. If you don’t like them, you can always move. Or, you can cast your vote for somebody who opposes both. That’s also a choice.

      • RestonGrsndma

        I don’t get how this tax “relieves the pressure” on property taxes. You are not proposing reducing property taxes or replacing them with this tax but just adding this to the property taxes we already pay. However you spin it you are taking more money out of my wallet which is already sadly depleted.

        • Ming the Merciless

          By “relieves the pressure on property taxes” she means “maybe FCPS won’t have to ask the Board to raise your property taxes”. Gee, what do you think, will FCPS shut up about needing more money if the meals tax comes through? Don’t count on it. Somehow they will find a way to spend the meals tax revenue, and then they’ll still say they’re broke and they need to increase everyone’s real estate assessments.

        • BGEMD 9406

          RestonGrandman, this avoids a property tax increase in the spring. That is what they mean. They can raise the money through the Meals Tax, which is paid 1/3 by commuters and tourists who eat here but don’t live here. Or they can raise the property tax by 4 cents, which is about $300 for the average homeowner. It will also allow expansion of property tax relief programs for persons living on fixed incomes, which you may benefit from.

      • Greg

        You don’t get it. There is ALWAYS money to be cut from the county budgets (including your bloated salary) and those of the schools too. Raising taxes is never the always solution. Shame on you.

        • BOHICA

          The bloated salary, a 100% raise, that the school board enjoys was given to them by themselves. Have they no shame?

          • BGEMD 9406

            Bohica, your data is wrong. The School Board voted in April 2015 to
            raise their annual salaries from $20,000 to $32,000, which is a 60%
            increase.

      • EliteinReston

        Thanks for replying. What I was trying to get across was the need for more specifics about what the meals tax would finance. Saying “the meals tax will relieve pressure on property taxes” is too vague for me. You’d get my vote if you could say this: “If you support the meals tax, the Board of Supervisors would be able to hold the tax rate at $1.130 for each $100 of assessed value in the next fiscal year.” Otherwise, I fear the board would raise property taxes despite the additional revenue from the meals tax.

        • Pat Hynes

          Last night at the McLean Civic Assoc meeting, Supervisor John Foust told the audience that he expects there will be no increase in property taxes for next year if the meals tax passes. I think that’s as close to a promise as they can give at this point. But I assume that a property tax increase is very unlikely also.

          • One Really

            One would think there really wouldn’t be a need. I feel that the meal tax is another grab at my wallet. “Well Johnny did it so I will too.”
            If there was a trade off I might be supportive.
            Example:
            If a 4% meal tax would pick up my trash and I could cancel my service. I would support it 100%.

          • BOHICA

            Once upon a time………………& they were taxed heavily ever after. Another Fairfax fairy tale.

          • EliteinReston

            Thanks for your posts on this subject. My wife and I will vote for the meals tax. What tipped me over was the fact that surrounding jurisdictions have it while Fairfax doesn’t. I am skeptical voters will approve it though in a general presidential election year. I am guessing it will come before voters again in a year when the turnout is lower.

        • BGEMD 9406

          EliteinReston, this avoids a property tax increase in the spring. They can raise the money through the Meals Tax, which is paid 1/3
          by commuters and tourists who eat here but don’t live here. Or they can
          raise the property tax by 4 cents, which is about $300 for the average
          homeowner. It will also allow expansion of property tax relief programs
          for persons living on fixed incomes. The Supervisors have said all of this publicly during proceedings that were recorded and are available online.

      • EuropeWatcher

        I don’t believe you. I don’t think property taxes will ever be reduced. Fairfax County BOS is full of BS – just like you and your SB colleagues.

    • BGEMD 9406

      Chuck, a NO vote on the Meals Tax is a YES vote for a property tax increase. The Supervisors have said as much in their proceedings, which are available online. Please vote YES so we can avoid a property tax increase.

      • Ming the Merciless

        Vote NO for the Meals Tax AND for the property tax increase.

        • BGEMD 9406

          Again, if you want to live in Detroit with bad infrastructure, move. If you want to live in Somalia or Libya with no government, move. If you want to live in Fairfax County with strong schools, high property values, and good quality of life, none of that is free.

          • Ming the Merciless

            Well gee, we better pass that Meals Tax and pay teachers whatever they want or we will turn into Detroit or Somalia. It’s all so obvious now!

          • Birdman73

            We obviously won;t turn into Somalia, but we won’t be the crown gem of the nation they way we were a decade ago. People want a world-class district but don;t want to pay for it. You can;t have it both ways.

          • Greg

            You missed it again: we were better a decade ago with a lot less money and tax burden. There was no meals tax a decade ago, and there should not be one ever.

          • Ming the Merciless

            Overtaxing the people will turn us into Detroit faster than undertaxing us will.

  • One Really

    Where to start with this Op-Ed.

    ” If we want to keep our great teachers — and the families and companies who choose Fairfax County for its great schools — it’s time for Fairfax County to get up to speed and implement a modest meals tax”

    It’s not a modest tax. An additional 100 Million a year for you to waste isn’t modest.

    How about the school board reduce its members and staff. In your example you listed Arlington first. Well they have 5 members and PWC has 9. Does FC really need 12? Cut the At-large members. That’s 96K extra pocket change right there.

    I am sure that if a comprehensive efficiency study was truly conduct of all of FCPS. It would wonder why do we need so many assistant superidents and principals.
    I guess one anology would be this. You can bail out the water in the boat. It will keeping filling up until you find the source of the leak.

    • BGEMD 9406

      One Really,
      * You suggest the School Board members reduce their staff. Each School Board member has 1/2 of a secretary. That is it. No staff otherwise. Each * School Board member earns $32,000 per year. I bet you wouldn’t do their job for that salary. Not many would.

      * You ask why so many assistant principals. Because our schools are so big. West Potomac has 2,600 students and is expected to grow to 3,000 by 2020. That is more than many colleges. You need executives to ensure efficient administration. An army does not consist of a single general and a huge mass of soldiers. You need Colonels, Majors, and Captains too.

      • Greg

        This is 2016, not 1956. Secretaries are not needed — especially for someone who works for the highly automated schools. Fire them all and you will have made a cut.

        Next, but the board pay to $0. These are service positions, not jobs or careers.

        Combine the redundant HR, payroll, PR, IT, library, transportation and security bureaucracies and you will cut millions, many millions.

        • One Really

          Exactly!

        • Birdman73

          When you cut the board pay to zero, the only people left to serve on the board are upper class retirees with no diversity whatsoever. Your board does not represent its constituents.

          • Greg

            How about some proof of what you are positing?

            Moreover, if you imagine the school board members need to be paid, then fire lots of the highly-overpaid administrators and let the board do that work.

            In any case, all of the secretaries need to go. ASAP.

      • One Really

        * You suggest the School Board members reduce their staff. Each School
        Board member has 1/2 of a secretary. That is it. No staff otherwise.
        Each * School Board member earns $32,000 per year. I bet you wouldn’t do their job for that salary. Not many would.

        – I would cut the At-large members and their staff. There is no need for 12 members. 9 would be enough.

        – Just FYI the army is cutting back as well. Remember that article about 10,000 Army officers on chopping block.

        http://federalnewsradio.com/army/2016/03/ten-thousand-army-officers-chopping-block-army-official-says/

        – In your example West Potomac as with many high schools. I would take a close look. I am sure AP 4 could do the same job as AP 5. Or spread the duties across the four. There is overlap in any Org.

        On the leadership team do we really need a
        Deputy Superintendent,

        Chief Academic Office,

        Chief Operating Office,

        Chief of Staff

        Assistant Superintendent for each region which there are 5. You can’t combine these duties into 3?

        The Army has found a way!

        • Birdman73

          Go into West Potomac and see what those APs do on any given day. Spend a day in their shoes … and if it’s a Friday night football or basketball game, all night as well. You’ll be asking to add one, not subtract one.

          • One really

            I know the hard streets of West Potomac is rough.
            I am given ways to cut the budget. Your only proposal has been to keep sending money to the Ivory Tower.
            If the tax passes I will make it a point to only eat in either Ashburn or Sterling.

  • Walter Hadlock

    One big expenditure for FCPS was noted in the WPOST the other day. Herndon High School has 26 ESOL teachers and is right up there with JEB Stuart HS. This is one of those unfunded Federal mandates–all school age children are eligible for an education regardless of their immigration status. I have never read an article that explains just how much of the FCPS budget goes for costs such as ESOL. A no vote is a vote to push FCPS towards better management strategies for spending the billions they already get.

    • Ming the Merciless

      Of course that is true, but FCPS does not care. They regard all these new students as a reason to reach into our pockets. We have to tell FCPS “no, you will not get more money” so that they will have a reason to oppose the cause of their “requirement” for more money rather than embracing that cause.

      • BGEMD 9406

        FCPS views the students as deserving of a quality education, period. You don’t, as you expressed above.

        • Ming the Merciless

          Indeed, people who do not belong here do not deserve an education at public expense.

      • Birdman73

        How does FCPS “oppose” the cause? Not let them in? Kick them out at the door? Tell teachers that part of their contracted job is to protest on Washington? What do you recommend?

        • Ming the Merciless

          Teachers use their lobbying power ALL THE TIME on Capitol Hill.

    • Chuck Morningwood

      For shame, WH. You gave a name to that which should not be named.

    • dk9

      You said yourself it is a federal mandate. FCPS can’t do anything to change that. So we make our school system worse for all students? Doesn’t make sense.

    • TalkingHead

      I have never read an article that explains JUST HOW MUCH of the budget goes there, but I like to draw conclusions without any idea of just how much goes there. It’s fun to draw factless random conclusions because it proves the point that the meals tax wouldn’t be needed if the money wasn’t used to fund those unknown amounts.
      As David Byrne states, “Facts just twist the truth around”.

      • Chuck Morningwood

        And why would that be, TH? Probably because FCPS won’t release such statistics because they don’t want to deal with a furious public paying for an education of Illegals instead of for their own children’s education.

        • TalkingHead

          You ask ‘Why would that be’, the information is available if you care to look. So it’s not probably anything, it’s actually that you care not to look. And why won’t you look CM, probably because you would realize your “trumped” up argument is completely full of holes and that the facts don’t support your prejudged conclusions.
          Whether you agree that we should pay for poor people going to school or not, the fact is that we do, and it ain’t changing. The fact is that the money IS going to come from somewhere. Let’s have it come from your meals tax and not my property taxes.

        • BGEMD 9406

          Or you could just read the budget, which is available online. It actually says how much is spent on ESL.

        • Birdman73

          Let’s say FCPS is paying for the education of illegal children. So what? What can FCPS do to change that? Legally, you have to teach them. Supreme Court says so. Let’s say you don’t teach them. Then what do they do? Increase in crime and unemployment. It is in the county’s best interest to educate as many children as possible, whether they are legally obligated to or not.

    • BGEMD 9406

      By voting NO on the Meals Tax, you are voting YES for a property tax increase this spring, which will cost the average homeowner another $300.

      Vote YES for the Meals Tax to avoid a property tax increase.

    • Birdman73

      So you’re saying screw the ESOL kids – whether they are here illegally or not – because they MAY be here illegally? And then screw the other kids in the classroom because the teachers spends all the time with the ESOL kids and not them? I don’t see how cutting ESOL funding is helping anybody.

  • LaureenMT

    If you are not willing to spend an extra 4% on your restaurant meals to educate children in your neighborhood, you need to reexamine your priorities. An educated population makes Fairfax County better for all of us, including the businesses located here.

    • Ming the Merciless

      My priorities are fine, I disagree that an educated population makes the county better, and I disagree that it is possible (let alone necessary) to educate the people who shouldn’t even be here in the first place.

      • HappyHappyJoyJoy

        It seems then that you would agree that public funded education should be abolished. If some parent wants to send some child to school, they should fund it themselves with private schooling and not pass the burden onto society at large.
        On your planet, education is considered a luxury for the privileged few. If your birth stars didn’t drop you into a wealthy family, too bad for you, sometimes life sux, sometimes it doesn’t.
        I’m glad I got a good public education. I’ve paid back society hundreds to thousands folds. You should be happy that you funded me, it was a great investment on your part.

        • The Constitutionalist

          The debt levels all across this country suggest that you haven’t paid your debt to society “hundreds to thousands folds.”

          In your world, there’s enough of everything for everyone. In the real world, there isn’t. And in an attempt to turn your paradox into reality, we take away everything from everyone, in hopes to give them everything.

          But you know what happens when everyone has everything? Everyone has nothing.

        • Ming the Merciless

          I do not agree that public education has an infinite call on our resources and that we must always give them whatever they want. If you think there is some upper limit on spending on public education, then you agree with me. All we’re arguing about is what that limit should be.

          That aside, in recent decades, public education has not improved commensurate with the increased spending on it. Public education was better when we spent less on it than we do now.

  • Greg

    The county does not need a meals tax; the county needs to cut expenses and wasteful programs. Vote NO on the meals tax.

    • BOHICA

      It is really a prepared food & beverage tax which is already at 6% & would increase to 10%. Vote no! They squander our tax dollars!

      • BGEMD 9406

        Bohica, you are mixing apples and oranges.
        1. There is not a 6% “prepared food & beverage tax” in Virginia. Instead, there is a STATE SALES tax, which is 6%.
        2. All state sales tax revenue goes to Richmond, and the state gives back about 21 cents of every dollar to Fairfax County.
        3. The Meals Tax is a COUNTY tax, so every penny would stay here in Fairfax County. In other words, Meals Tax = 100% stays here, but Sales Tax = 21% stays here.
        As to “squandered tax dollars,” you do not provide any data to substantiate your allegation.

        • One Really

          Example 1:
          https://www.fcps.edu/about-fcps/leadership-team
          Trim some of the leadership team. There’s a few dollars there in payroll.

          • BGEMD 9406

            One Really, they have trimmed the leadership team. Gatehouse is a ghost town compared to what it was a decade ago. That is because FCPS tried to concentrate the $500 million in budget cuts at HQ, in order to lessen the impact on the schools. Showing me a picture of a couple dozen people is not evidence of bloat or fat. Look at military leadership – Sgt, Capt., Maj., Col., Gen. To operate efficiently, any organization needs effective leadership.

          • One really

            Trim this fat as well.

            https://www.fcps.edu/department/department-information-technology
            http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/dit/

            Combine the two departments. No need for overlap and additional tax dollars being spend.
            And yes it can be done! I doing presently for companies. I done it in the past for military customers.

        • BOHICA

          Call it what you want but by calling it a “meals tax” many believe that it applies only if you are going out to dinner! It would be 10%. Why are you so angry? Calm down & relax!

    • dk9

      What would you suggest the county cut? As referenced in the piece, FCPS is an exceptionally lean system. There is little to no more fat to cut–at this point further cuts would be to real, valued programs that make FCPS a world class and competitive school system. It’s why families and businesses move here, why the economy is strong, and why property values are high.

      • One Really

        “As referenced in the piece, FCPS is an exceptionally lean system. ”

        My wife and I review our family budget twice a year to see what we can eliminate. We divert any unnecessary spending to additional prinicial on the house or college savings.
        That being said I could look at our budget and say well that 4 trips daily to starbucks is needed. Those 3x times a week green fees are needed. I would feel that I am lean in my budget.

  • Well I would make two points. First, with the change in federal expenditures all of Virginia is going to suffer. Virginia’s economy has seen one of if not the slowest growing in the country. Maryland is a competitor. Virginia’s economy it totally, totally tied to federal spending which is looking over the cliff. (No room for pied pipers.)
    Second, Fairfax schools are being transformed before our eyes — if we would open them. The large growth in students is a function of the growth of a less fluent population. We have more children from one parent homes, more, 40%+, now qualify for free lunch and need help to make it over the weekend. Many charitable organizations now gather food to give it to school kids whose parents cannot afford to buy it…
    We face enormous challenges never seen expect in the Great Depression.
    So we need to figure out how tomeet those challenges.
    And, the General Assembly eliminated the tax per gallon on gasoline and substituted increased real estate taxes (Fairfax now has the “De-congestion Tax” imposed on sellers of homes and business properties. Also they replaced the per gallon tax on gasoline with a sales tax on the wholesale price of oil. Now that OPEC has kept oil at half the normal cost Virginia’s gas tax produces half the revenue that the $/Gallon tax previously produced. Has anyone saw a pothole in Reston lately? I drove from North Point recently over to South Lakes SC using side streets etc and counted 92 potholes. Why is that?
    Another great crisis is brewing.
    I am not against the meals tax…I pay that when I eat in Herndon, Fairfax or Vienna so it is not a big deal.
    The problem longer term is what do we do? What does Virginia which is addicted to federal spending do? What? What?

    • Ming the Merciless

      Wallethub says MD is more dependent on Federal spending than VA.

      • Maybe but not likely. When W Bush singed the NAFTA bill in 2005 more than 250 factories closed across rural Virginia within 6 months. Rural western Virginia’s economy is more than 70% dependent on federal spending ….SS, Medicare, Medicaid, assistance for poor schools, etc. etc. So Virginia taxes us extra to make payments for their school costs in rural Virginia. So while it does go directly from USA to rural Virginia it goes to residents of the Nova to Tidewater area and Virginia taxes it and then pays for the education system in rural Virginia.

        • Ming the Merciless
          • I think that Wallethub just counts the money directly distributed to states and localities by the federal government. It does not account for the 25,000 employed as contractors at Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport News, Va. Nor does it account for any other contractors who happen to be in a state.
            Virginia is not known for providing leadership in any economic sector other than contracts for doing federal work?
            Virginia and Maryland has had the slowest economic growth this year due in great part to the sequester…or cutting of Federal defense spending.

      • What Wallethub does is count the federal money redistributed to the states. It does not account for money paid to federal contractors and where that money is spent. Newport News Shipbuilding in Newport News, Va has $25,000 employees which are directly or indirectly paid via federal funds. Virginia has 100s of thousands of workers who are paid indirectly by the federal government.
        Any calculation which includes workers paid indirectly by the Feds will show Maryland and Virginia at the top of the list. And when the chicken comes home to roost Virginia will face a economic recession/depression. Then the meals tax will drop dramatically as unemployed do not eat out as much.

  • Chuck Morningwood

    Proposed by the BoS: A 4% Meals Tax + $227,000,000 in three separate bond initiatives.

    ‘Nuff said.

    • BGEMD 9406

      Infrastructure is expensive, Chuck. There are many homes available in Detroit for a song, but there is a reason for that.

  • BGE

    Please vote YES for the Meals Tax on Nov. 8! Here are the facts.
    1. If the Meals Tax is approved by voters on Nov. 8, there will be NO property tax increase in the spring. If the Meals Tax fails, the average homeowner will see a $300 increase in property taxes this spring.
    2. 100% of property taxes are paid by Fairfax County residents. By contrast, 1/3 of the Meals Tax will be paid by tourists and commuters who eat here but don’t live here. That is FREE MONEY that we can keep to invest in our schools and our communities.
    3. 70% of the revenues from the Meals Tax will be invested in Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS). The School Board has announced two priorities: (a) reducing class sizes, which have increased three times since 2009, and (b) increasing teacher salaries to the market average for our area. We are losing many teachers to Arlington, Alexandria, etc. where they can earn $10-20K more per year. (The gap in pay is significant for Years 5-20.) The property tax increase last spring allowed FCPS to make up half of the difference, but we need the Meals Tax to make up the difference.
    4. 30% of the Meals Tax revenue will provide Fairfax County with the option of investing in parks and libraries, public safety and public health, and property tax relief for residents with fixed incomes.
    5. The Meals Tax will help the poor. That is why the Fairfax County Human Services Alliance, which consists of social workers and nonprofits who work with the poor, has endorsed the Meals Tax.

    • RoadApples

      BGE:
      Thank you. You have succeeded in bolstering my decision to indeed Vote ‘NO’ to the meals tax.
      I had to read no further than your Item #1.
      Feel free to correct me if I am wrong on the following; since I only took Accounting 101/102/103 (we were on the quarter system) in College:
      Since we spend approx. $250.00 a week on restaurant meals in Fairfax County; say 50 weeks a year = $12,500.00 x .04% additional for proposed meals tax = an additional $500.00 a year in taxes we would pay if the Meals Tax passes.
      Consequently we would be better off financially paying an additional ‘on average’ $300.00 increase in property taxes this spring and the accompanying income tax deduction of the $300.00 vs. paying the additional $500.00 a year in the proposed meals tax.

  • Mark Ryan

    How about more taxes on cigarettes/Tobacco?

    • BOHICA

      And alcohol.

    • BGEMD 9406

      Mark Ryan, I agree with you. Let’s tax cigarettes, alcohol, other stuff. But we can’t. Why? Because the State of Virginia does not allow it. Cities and towns have broader taxing authority than counties in Virginia. So Alexandria can impose some taxes that Fairfax County cannot. The State Legislature is not going to change our taxing authority anytime soon.

      Source: http://www.dhcd.virginia.gov/commissiononlocalgovernment/PDFs/taxpow.pdf

  • BGEMD 9406

    The only suckers will be the voters who oppose the Meals Tax, then have to pay higher property taxes in the spring. Again, the property tax is paid 100% by Fairfax County residents, but the meals
    tax is paid 1/3 by tourist and commuters who eat here but don’t live
    here. Why would you reject FREE MONEY from tourists and commuters?

  • Ming the Merciless

    On the subject of comparing Fairfax County to Montgomery County. MoCo pays their teachers more, but do not get any additional quality or student achievement out of it. It would be stupid for us to go down the same path.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/05/29/AR2010052903132.html

    The results have been striking — and strikingly unaffordable — in a county where more than half of all spending goes to public schools. The average teacher salary in Montgomery today is $76,483, the highest in the region. Average pay for teachers is now almost 20 percent higher in Montgomery than in Fairfax and has increased much faster than in most local suburban school systems. Since 2000, salaries for Montgomery teachers, as for many other county employees, have nearly doubled, rising at almost triple the rate of inflation.

    Teachers are pillars of any community, and Montgomery’s are highly rated. But their compensation has outstripped the marketplace. Today, Montgomery schools spend about 20 percent more per pupil than Fairfax schools; they consume a greater share of the public spending than in any other locality in the region. The spending gap is not about classroom
    quality and student achievement; in those terms the two school systems are comparable. Rather, the difference is compensation, which accounts for 90 percent of Montgomery’s education spending.

  • Birdman73

    It’s simply … vote Yes to the meals tax, and $99 million in revenue is created, with around 1/4 coming from folks out of Fairfax County, and the other 75% shouldered by all FC residents. Or vote “No” to the meals tax and get a 4 cent increase in the property tax, and create $93 million in income, all paid for by FC property owners, with nothing coming from outside of the county. But either one or the other will happen, I want the plan where more folks are paying than the one with just the FC property owners shouldering the burden.

    • Greg

      Now you can predict the future? #smfh

    • RoadApples

      B:Man:
      For us ‘it’s simply’ vote NO to the meals tax:
      Considering the amount of $ (conservatively $12,500.00) we spend on meals per year in Fairfax County restaurants:
      Mrs.RoadApples and I are better off financially paying the additional 4% increase on approx. the $6,500.00 we pay in yearly Fairfax County property taxes (and also tack on the added benefit of an additional tax deduction) vs. an additional 4% proposed meals tax.

      • One Really

        I was thinking this samething last night. If its a choice of meal tax at additional 100 dollars for me or an increase PT. I would take the PT everyday and twice on sunday. Atleast I would get the deduction and a precentage of that money back.
        The meal tax is like paying rent.

  • EuropeWatcher

    Hynes states: “…the school system is on the front lines daily attending to their educational and personal needs.” I don’t believe it is the government’s concern to be daily attending to anyone’s “personal” needs beyond security. It is just this kind of focus that has led to an explosive budget – particularly in the ESOL community. FCPS has a responsibility to educate and that is it.

  • BooBots

    Taxes are already too high, all around. Find ways to cut spending. We do not want the meals tax, period.

  • A K

    Is ANYONE aware that there is a special fund (named “Managed Reserve”) that was established in 1983 for emergencies, which has NEVER been tapped, yet keeps growing? At the end of FY2015 it had a balance of almost $76 million. The actual figures for FY2015 showed a “profit” of $89 million.

    Tell me again why we need another tax??? Shame on you Fairfax County. Shame.

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