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Op-Ed: Meals Tax Approval is Important to Fairfax County

by Karen Goff October 24, 2016 at 1:00 pm 21 Comments

Election Day 2014 at South Lakes High SchoolThis is an op-ed by Reston resident Therese Martin. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

There have been so many misleading or incorrect comments about the proposed meals tax for Fairfax County during recent weeks that it is hard to know where to begin in pointing out how important its approval is for the citizens of our county.

Foremost, the Board of Supervisors is not proposing a rehash of last spring’s budget deliberations; it is proposing that they be given an important tool to use in making budget decisions in future years.

Each year, our elected representatives must balance the needs of the county’s residents against the resources available to them. Many Fairfax residents apparently don’t realize that counties in Virginia don’t have many tools to use [including use of an income tax as proposed in a recent letter in the local press]. Other than one-time grants and permits or fees that it caps, Virginia pretty much limits counties’ ability to fund services to the levy of property taxes.  In some years, the state actually takes back a part of the funds it provides to localities in order to balance its budget.

[We just recently heard that Virginia’s well-publicized plan to increase teacher salaries is on the chopping block because of its anticipated budget shortfall. Thus any increase in Fairfax teacher salaries to bring them up to the level of surrounding jurisdictions will depend on the local property tax.]

Fairfax County is not alone each year in asking the state to give it additional means of raising money to carry out governmental services requested and needed by its citizens.

Other Northern Virginia jurisdictions in this high-cost area which is the economic engine of the state join to make the request year after year.  But the other jurisdictions have an advantage over Fairfax:  they can and do levy a meals tax.

And in response to a couple of other misleading comments:

  • In Henrico County, restaurants saw an increase in their business after the county recently levied its meals tax. Why doesn’t the Restaurant Association look to the Virginia experience, not that of the “proverbial Peoria” in its fight against the tax? When was the last time that restaurant chains in the metropolitan area have lowered their prices depending on whether their patrons will be incurring a meals tax?
  • People at any income level usually don’t eat out unless they can afford to do so or it is cheaper and more convenient.  When was the last time that anyone has crossed the border between the County and its adjoining cities and towns to save 4 cents on the dollar by eating in Fairfax County?  When was the last time that you checked out whether you would be paying a meals tax on your next restaurant meal?

The opponents of the meals tax for Fairfax County are being penny-wise and pound-foolish by not supporting the addition of this tool to the County’s revenue toolbox for services to all its residents.

Therese Martin


  • Scott H

    Sorry Theresa. You are penny foolish AND pound foolish.
    The county raised property taxes $100M last year. Now they want another $100M on top of the $4Billion they already collect…..FOUR BILLION!!
    The Board of Supervisors needs to spend less. It doesn’t need another penny.

    VOTE for candidates who aren’t bug spending Democrats and see how the county’s finances change.
    VOTE NO on the meals tax and vote out the BoS candidates supporting it!

  • The Constitutionalist

    The meals tax has been and always will be just another band-aid on the hemorrhagic wound that is our county’s spending. Except that it’s a band-aid you want me to buy for someone else’s wound.

    No thanks. Voting no.

  • Creativity slump

    Unsure if you noticed but property assessment/taxes are at an all time high and comparatively higher than other jurisdictions. While you probably have our best interests at heart every person here has something at stake, incl brainpower to make the best decision. As mortgage rates will surely increase the housing bubble will likely burst and income from property taxes will fall sharply. So to be realistic we should not look at increasing taxes and spending but find methods to curb spending and cut sinful projects.

    When i look at schools i see two things, kids studying in trailers and kids going to new facilities that resemble artful, impractical futuristic architectural features that are completely unnecessary. Also, 50mill spent on astro turf, incl many more examples that i can point out and list.

    Why not have kids that go to school create their own income stream and fund their education? My son went to a junior achievement program where they had to compete against each other and make money on prjects of their own creation.

    A german study reveals that 85% of students were gifted before they went to school, after high school graduation that number dropped to 5%. You seem to encourage funding for this kind of numb skullery, sorry to say.

  • meh

    ESOL and larger class sizes need to be paid for and the meals tax or higher property tax are the options. Enjoy the pain!

    • One Really

      Well depending on the size of your family. I think the property tax would be the cheaper route. Plus you can deduct it.

      • Jay

        I’m voting for it, so the folks who ain’t homeowners can finally chip in and fund something.

        • One Really

          That makes sense (not). Homeowners can pay both taxes. Seems like a lose lose to me.

          Please spare me the well with the meal tax it will offset our property taxes. I was born at night, but not last night.

        • synchros

          Tenants also pay those taxes, through their rent.

  • vdiv

    Fairfax Co. is too big to fail. It’s time to be split into smaller parts. Seriously, how do the vast majority of counties in VA or in the whole country survive (and many thrive) with much smaller resources? Where are the economies of scale?

    • Greg

      They spend less and get more done. Why, for example, does Fairfax County own more rental units (none of which produce a penny of property tax) than any other landlord?

    • Fairfax Watcher

      vdiv: You have asked the RIGHT Question! “…how do the vast majority of counties in VA…survive….?” ANSWER: The General Assembly(GA) passes out to the very poor & poor Counties the tax dollars that we in Fairfax County send to Richmond. Fairfax County is robbed every year because the GA refuses to send back our fair share. Many Delegates would lose their jobs if their poor counties did not get the cash from the FC Golden Goose!
      For far too long the BOS has refused to stand-up to the School Board with regard to the FCPS spending which includes for many years no accountability for tax dollars given to the schools. Billions spent and no audit??
      Whose is really to blame? We, the tax payers are to blame — we keep voting the same old tired members back to their part time jobs on both the BOS and the FCPS Boards! We need to demand reform to reverse this over-the-hill spending!!

  • FoetusBlow

    It’s important, alright…important to say “No” to, along with each and every effort to tax us(see “Bonds”) @ election time…your money will be siphoned off to whatever whims the party deems fit…next.

  • Greg

    We are voting no on the meals tax.

    • Matt

      Everyone that wants to vote yes, feel free to add up your food budget for the year and cut a check for 4% to the county.

  • Greg

    On the ballot this year is a referendum asking Fairfax County voters to authorize the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to add a new tax onto restaurant bills, which would likely be four percent. This tax would be tacked on top of the existing six percent sales tax, for a total of 10 percent.

    The tax would apply to expensive meals in fancy restaurants, but also to the hamburger and coffee purchased by a homeless person trying to warm up at McDonald’s in the winter. Unlike other taxes, the meals tax would have no credits, deductions, or relationship to a person’s ability to pay.

    The Fairfax Board says the new money is needed to help fund schools. We need to properly fund public education, especially teacher salaries so teachers are less likely to be recruited to nearby school systems. But the proposed meal tax isn’t necessary to do this. Here’s why.

    The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors directs about 52.7 percent of the Fairfax County general fund budget to schools. If this figure were increased slightly to 54.4 percent, the schools would receive an additional $69 million per year—just what the meal tax would generate, but without a new tax.

    And it’s not like the county doesn’t have the money. The Fairfax Board raised property taxes by six percent earlier this year.

    If you didn’t find these facts in the recent voter information distributed by the Fairfax Board, it’s because they didn’t mention them.

    The Fairfax Board’s voter information also didn’t reference the expected revenue windfall—on the order of tens of millions of dollars—into Fairfax County’s coffers from the new development in Tysons Corner and the Dulles Corridor. Would the meals tax go away as this new tax revenue pours in? Highly unlikely.

    The Fairfax Board also hopes voters won’t ask why retired county employees are eligible for two pensions, rather than just one, until a retiree is old enough to receive Social Security benefits. This second pension is virtually unheard of anywhere else in government or the private sector.

    The Fairfax Board also imagines that a restaurant tax won’t hurt restaurant businesses or the thousands of hourly workers restaurants employ in Fairfax County. That’s not believable.

    You may hear that the state needs to do a better job of funding local schools. Fairfax County Public Schools are receiving a record amount of state tax dollars this year: $632 million. This represents a 29 percent increase in just five years. An additional $30 million is budgeted for the 2017-18 school year.

    At the same time, Virginia’s state budget general fund is actually smaller than it was a decade ago, with inflation and population growth taken into account. How? Because the General Assembly is able to say “no” to special interest groups and earmarks for pet projects so that funds are available for priorities like public education.

    The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors needs to take a similar approach. With recent local tax increases in effect and record state funding available to schools, the Fairfax Board needs to make ends meet without another tax. Voters can send this message to the Board by voting “no” on the meals tax referendum.

    • One Really

      But its for the kids. /sarcasm

      I agreed with you 100%

      This one has always burned me up pretty good.

      “The Fairfax Board also hopes voters won’t ask why retired county
      employees are eligible for two pensions, rather than just one, until a
      retiree is old enough to receive Social Security benefits. This second
      pension is virtually unheard of anywhere else in government or the
      private sector.”

  • Chuck Morningwood

    Hey, Therese. There’s no amount of meal tax you can raise that will keep the BoS and FCPS from wanting even more next year. It’s time for these people to go on a diet.

    • 30yearsinreston

      It’s other people’s money

  • 30yearsinreston

    Still voting NO

  • Tom H

    Thank you Theresa for not stating this would slow our property tax increases. Prior communications have stated this, yet there is no language in the legislation regarding property taxes. This for me is the major concern… permanently increasing our tax obligation with zero concessions for existing tax obligations.

  • Matt

    This is just another example of the media propping up the liberal government’s policies.

    this is unbelievable:

    “The opponents of the meals tax for Fairfax County are being penny-wise and pound-foolish by not supporting the addition of this tool to the County’s revenue toolbox for services to all its residents.”

    “the addition of this tool” ??? You mean the money out of my pocket, and into the hands of officials who have shown over and over they can’t mange their finances? no thank you.

    I work. I care for my family. and I do other things in the community. Sometimes I don’t have time to cook a meal at home, and need to grab something out, whether its fast food, or otherwise…I shouldn’t be punished for this.


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