Del. Ken Plum: Vote “Yes” on Meals Tax

by Del. Ken Plum November 3, 2016 at 10:00 am 65 Comments

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Next time you are out to dinner or lunch notice the check you receive from the server for payment for your meal. Few people realize that in the Towns of Herndon and Vienna, the Cities of Fairfax, Falls Church and Alexandria and the County of Arlington a meals tax is added to the cost of the food. Not so in Fairfax County.

While initially that may sound like a good deal, it really is not. Revenues that may have been raised from business lunches and dinners, travelers passing through the County who stop to eat, and persons who come from neighboring jurisdictions are lost. With the limitations on the ways that counties can raise revenue the cost of local government falls disproportionally on property owners through the property tax. State law requires counties to have a referendum before a meals tax can be imposed as a way to diversify the tax base. 

On the ballot on Election Day, Tuesday, November 8, voters in Fairfax County will be asked to authorize the Board of Supervisors “to levy a tax on prepared food and beverage, otherwise known as a meals tax… at a rate not to exceed four percent…” The tax would be levied “for the purpose of reducing dependence on real estate taxes.” The revenues generated are to be dedicated 70 percent to the schools and 30 percent to County services, capital improvements and property tax relief.

I hope you join me in voting “yes.” As school population continues to increase and the demand and need for County services expands, the added costs will have to be borne by property tax payers through increased rates and assessments if the County is not allowed to diversify its tax base. The money that is raised by the meals tax would stay in Fairfax County for our needs and not be passed through to the state as is the case with the sales tax.

The argument that a meals tax somehow hurts small businesses has not been shown to be the case in other jurisdictions. Just look at the towns and cities around us including the District of Columbia that have a meals tax and you will see that they have robust restaurants and food establishments that equal or exceed those in Fairfax County. Restaurants do not pay the meals tax although the signs in some establishments might lead you to believe otherwise. Restaurants collect the tax as they do current sales tax for which they are compensated and pass the proceeds on to the government.

Most important to me is the fact that most of the new revenue will go to our schools. I watch the painful process each year as the men and women who are the excellent teachers in our schools are denied pay raises or programs have to be cut because there is not enough money to go around. The most consistent message I get from my constituents is that they want the very best schools for the children in our community. The meals tax will help us achieve that goal. Vote “yes” on November 8.

  • Chuck Morningwood

    Too late, Ken. I’ve already voted “No”. I also voted against all of those other bond initiatives as well.

    On the upside, I did vote “Yes” for the union referendum.

    • Former Democrat

      Good choices, thx chuck

  • Willie Reston


  • Ming the Merciless

    Once again Ken tells me exactly how to vote.

    • amytales

      Seriously? He’s advocating a particular stance. You are free to listen or not, agree or not.

      • Ming the Merciless

        Yes, seriously. When Ken takes a stance on an issue, that tells me exactly how to vote.

        • amytales

          Heh, well, I’d be embarrassed to admit so publicly to following such a mindless formula for which way to vote, but maybe that’s just me.

          • The Constitutionalist

            No, I think he has learned from history what is in his best interest, and yours too, whether you know it or not.

          • amytales

            If only it were that simple. It’s not. If you only want to focus on money coming out of your pocket and stop there, fine. But there are other things that are also in our own interest beyond our personal finances. Don’t presume what is or isn’t in my own interest. Sometimes you have to think about your community too.

          • Mike M

            You decide your interests. If they don’t match what I decide for me, then pay your own way? Am I getting through your skull yet?

          • amytales

            What about “community” can you not get through YOUR skull, Mike? I didn’t say MY interests, I mentioned our communal interests. I have no kids, so sometimes I resent paying property taxes that don’t personally benefit me. But at the same time, it is crucial that our young people have sufficient educational resources in order to become well-adjusted, skilled, and prosperous adults. So, money that goes towards public education in an era in which economic opportunity is becoming increasingly limited only to those whose parents are themselves wealthy, is an investment that benefits us all. I’m not saying that that automatically justifies new taxes, but I am saying that you should consider others sometimes instead of caring only about yourself.

          • Mike M

            Your assumption is that more money results in well-adjusted, skilled, and prosperous. I estimate the County has enough money and enough influence to stop the increase in costs.

            You will notice this irony: The US spends much more per capita than other countries. Yet scores lower. So keep throwing money at the problem? That would be insanity.

          • Ming the Merciless

            Not mindless at all. It is the product of decades of experience reading Ken’s columns and learning how he thinks.

  • Mike M

    What? Ken the Dem thinks we need to pay more?

    What’s new?

    Vote no on the meals tax. Vote no to Ken and crew.

  • 30yearsinreston

    If Ken is endorsing it, hold on to your wallets
    Voting NO to the meals tax

  • One Really

    I like his argument. How dare people come into our county and not pay any taxes. The nerve of people. /sarcasm

  • FoetusBlow

    une fois de plus, vous l’avez fait facile pour nous, Ken…

    • Greg

      Maybe this? “Without you, Ken, we would be lost … bless you … and … It might be time to step under the skirt of Hillary … seems it is opened up like a clam we’re talking about … ah, corruption … the swamp finally be drained a bit, thanks to some of our most beautiful in the FBI … a sad day in hell, Ken, a sad day in hell …”

      • Mike M

        Ouate de phoque? (Quebecois)

        • FoetusBlow

          Hah…that’s the spirit!

      • FoetusBlow

        close, Greg…”step out of under” and also a few other nicks and dings when you do a direct French-to-English translation or vice-a-verse, but you’ve got the general swing of it, thank you.

  • Enough Already!

    “Revenues that may have been raised from business lunches and dinners, travelers passing through the County who stop to eat, and persons who come from neighboring jurisdictions are lost.”

    This view is so disturbing. Money not collected by a tax that doesn’t exist (yet) is not “revenue lost”. It was never the county’s money to loose.

    • 30yearsinreston

      He looks on taxpayers as sheep just waiting to.be shorn

  • Scott H

    How much is enough Ken?
    $4 BILLION in taxes is already collected
    $100M in property tax increases last year

    Now the BoS wants another $100M via a tax on all prepared food

    I have a simple idea. SPEND LESS!
    The politicians on the BoS DO NOT need another lever to pull in the taxation of citizens so that they have more money to control and power over our lives.

    FTR, you are wrong on pretty much every issue on the sample ballot you mailed.

    – You are for a criminal for president
    – You are against a workers right to Choose
    – You are for special interest tax exemptions


  • Greg

    No, Ken, the proper advice is vote NO on the meals tax. Here’s why:

    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. (You do care about homeless people, don’t you Ken?)

    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.

    • SwissCheesed

      Your arguments against the meals tax are completely full of holes. Come up with some real reasons and I might consider instead voting No.

      • 30yearsinreston

        They sound good to.me

      • The Constitutionalist

        You people amaze me, you literally can have an individual spoon feed you “real reasons” and you’ll just dismiss them because you don’t understand them.

        Hopefully they’ll add liberalism to the DSM and we’ll be able to diagnose you idiots.

        • amytales

          Yeah, you’re not helping at all. I think a lot of people right now are thinking that people voting a different way from them are deranged, but let’s not stoop so low as to engage in ableist insults.

          • The Constitutionalist

            I wasn’t trying to be helpful, I was trying to be mean. Because I’m an asshole that has watched as his financial contribution to his community has increased over the years, but his compensation from the community has not.

        • SwissCheesed

          OK let me spell it out for you by way of a few examples…

          “The tax is not deductible…” so what, neither is sales tax or the current tax you spend on meals. If you are a renter and the RE tax goes up, and your resulting rent goes up, it’s not deductible either.

          “Homeless people won’t be able to eat…” , please, as a non-liberal you’re going to be worrying about the homeless now and how they will be affected; yet when liberals want to offer additional gov’t subsidies to them you cry. Give me a break, let’s try to not use the homeless when it is convenient to do so.

          “If you increase the funding from 52.7 to 54.4, you will make up the shortfall without incurring a meals tax” .. really???, where is the tiny 1.7 % to come from. because we all know 1.7 is much much smaller than 69 million. please.

          “2 pensions, blah blah blah”… So you expect the county should renege on contracts that were used to hire people in order to save money?

          Anyhow, sure there may be reasons to vote No on the meals tax, but there is really no reason to go making up arguments that are full of holes. How about some real reasons. How about proposing ideas where the budget shortfall can be made up from. How about some real numbers of what programs can be cut and how much they affect the budget.

          • The Constitutionalist

            I can sum it up as simply as this. There shouldn’t be a shortfall to begin with. It is not mine, nor your responsibility to bail out the government for its inability to be fiscally responsible.

            Just like it isn’t anyone else’s responsibility when you can’t pay for your car.

            Or when you can’t pay that second pension to a person you hired, because you were hoping sales(taxes) would go up in the future.

            I didn’t bring the homeless into the conversation, but again, subsidies are not the answer. If you would really like to see where charitable giving comes from broken down by political dynamic, I urge you to read: “Who Really Cares” by Arthur C. Brooks. I’m in the business, I would know.

          • SwissCheesed

            I can sum it up as simple as this: The school board says they can’t give you the level of educational services you are accustomed to at the current budget without a shortfall in funding. You’re saying they are fiscally irresponsible.
            The budget describes, in great detail, how money will be spent. You preach, with no details, how they should be able to provide the services with the current funding.

            And to obfuscate matters, you describe, in great detail with sources, how charitable giving is sourced by political party. Maybe try doing that with the budget and funding and present something from which I can vote No. Otherwise, I’m voting Yes: Funding the current service level from a meals tax is 66% better than funding it from property taxes.

      • amytales

        Doh, I replied last night but it got held up for moderation despite not having any objectionable content.

        SwissCheesed: Can you please elaborate on the holes you mentioned? Most conservatives just dismiss taxes out of hand, but this is the first attempt I’ve seen to actually engage and present reasonable objections to the tax rather than just a knee-jerk reaction that boils down to “taxes = BAD!”. I am still undecided on the issue and would prefer a more progressive tax rather than a flat percentage that applies to everyone. I am interested in both of your positions and would be interested in hearing more.

        • Mike M

          Dear Amy,
          Taxes are bad when a few have to pay more and more and more.
          Taxes are bad when we have a limited supply of money (always true).
          Taxes are bad when they only encourage a continuation of bad management.
          I strongly encourage you to look at Tom Davis’s argument against at http://www.connectionnewspapers.com/news/2016/oct/25/reject-meals-tax/.
          I don;t like Tom, but he lays it out pretty well.
          Love Mike M.

          • amytales

            Well, Mike, those are all your opinions. Which is fine, as long as we can acknowledge them as such. I’m all for making sure that tax revenue is properly managed–that is indeed crucial. I just don’t currently have good information on hand about whether bad management has actually been the case here at the local level. I do admit to freaking out when receiving my huge car tax bill this summer after getting a new car last year, but I guess it is what it is.

            I read your link. It’s difficult to take it seriously when this is thrown into the mix: “A closer look at school spending shows that the intentions of the School Board are to delve into more political correctness and social engineering.” And then cites a mere school name change. I mean, seriously?!

            But I do agree about the regressive nature of the tax, and that is what concerns me most about this meals tax, especially since the lower and middle classes are seeing their wages stagnate instead of regularly increasing enough to keep up with the increasing cost of basic expenses and taxes. Again, I’m not sure yet how I will vote on it. I’m still working to absorb a variety of people’s thoughts and form my own opinion on the matter.

          • Mike M

            It is fact, and not opinion, that some of us are paying an increasing load of other people’s way.
            It is a fact that there is not an unlimited supply of tax base.
            Bad management is expensive not desirable – fact!
            Here’s another fact: The school name does not have to be change. The sole motivation is political correctness. The point was don’t throw money after unnecessary actions.

          • amytales

            That’s what I was afraid of. Many people these days can’t tell fact from opinion, and it’s really quite sad. Undergirding your statements are faulty assumptions and premises, and I am challenging those assumptions.

            And for the record, “political correctness” is supposed to be about *respecting* people who are different from you. You know, treating them courteously.

          • Mike M

            So throw money at a study on a name change that is not necessary?
            Tell me which of my facts are not? Can’t.

            What’s sad is you can;t tell fact from opinion. What’s sad is how many L-words don’t understand basic economics.

          • amytales

            Your very insistence on starting your statements with “Taxes are ‘bad’ when…” traditionally signals the beginning of an opinion. When you assign “good” or “bad” values to something, you are expressing an opinion.

            “Taxes are bad when a few have to pay more and more and more.” Opinion. This is not an absolute truth. If people of much greater means are paying more, they still have a whole hell of a lot more money left over than economically underprivileged people.

            “Taxes are bad when we have a limited supply of money (always true).” What do you even mean? This doesn’t even make sense, and it sure as heck isn’t a FACT.

            “Taxes are bad when they only encourage a continuation of bad management.” Several opinions wrapped up in one. Assumption 1: Taxes encourage bad management. Assumption 2, based on faulty Assumption 1: Because taxes encourage bad management, all taxes are bad. OPINION.

            “All tax increases ought to justify themselves rather than the other ways around.” Again, what does this even mean? What “other ways around” are you referring to? I would think that taxes generally, if not always, came along with some *reason* for the levy, even if that reason is poor. OPINION.

            Don’t be such a jerk. I’m in accounting, so you can take your condescension elsewhere.

          • Mike M


          • amytales

            Yes, that is exactly what I am saying. Do you disagree that when an ambiguous value judgment is made, it is not therefore an objective truth? You would totally bomb the LSAT.

          • Mike M

            Sorry, but another fact: I kicked arse on the LSATs!

          • amytales

            Right. I don’t believe that for a second. Your logical reasoning ability is complete crap.

          • Mike M

            Life is much bigger than entrance exams. You’ll understand that when you spend a few more years out in the real world. What doesn’t fit your well-worn mental grooves, declare it false! “Crap!”

          • Guest

            What a terrible attempt to take down amytales’s excellent points. Drawing it out longer won’t make you sound any more right.

          • Mike M

            I expect my troll to chime in with gratuitous critique. You are violating your heroine’s own stricture.

          • Guest

            Sorry if I’m too much of a straight shooter to satisfy your worldly tastes.

          • Mike M

            Superficial = Straight shooting? Knee-jerk contrarianism = straight shooting? When did that happen?

          • Guest

            Amy cited more than enough verified truth to counter your opinions. Won and done.

          • Mike M

            Bad: In the aggregate. But I don;t expect you to understand that.

          • amytales

            Don’t blame me for your inability to use more precise language than calling things “bad.” That’s pre-k level word choice.

          • Mike M

            I think you are a little too “sophisticated” for common sense. There are many hipster metrosexuals like you milling about these days.

      • Greg

        If the county paying for two pensions, when nearly everyone else gets none, is not reason enough you, teacher, are #doomed.

        And, of course, who among us has received a 29 percent raise, as the school system has, in five years? (While its performance declines).

  • BJ Wilson

    Sorry Ken. I’m voting No.

  • Concerned Resident

    Voting No.
    FCPS needs to find ways to manage expenses within budget.

  • meh

    ken loves tax hikes!

  • 30yearsinreston

    Why doesn’t Ken ask his buddy the Governor for a handout to meet FCPS ‘promise’ for teachers pay rises
    Any money collected will go into.rhe Richmond crony sink hole

  • ichrysso

    Mr. Plum – since you are using your position to sway public opinion, perhaps you can elaborate on the BoS’ language in the referendum concerning property tax relief? Nowhere in the supporting materials do I find how much relief we are getting if we vote in favor of this tax. Perhaps you will be more responsive and transparent than the County BoS and the Dept. of Tax Revenue since no representative has contacted me back. Thanks in advance.

  • The Constitutionalist

    Any time Ken tells you to do something, it’s in your best interest to do exactly and completely the opposite any opportunity you get.

    This guy is so detached from reality, probably the 30+ years of public service, gee where have I heard that before?

  • UStifosi .

    Ken, thanks for reminding me to vote NO on Tuesday. I almost forgot all about it.

  • Mike M

    Most L-words just shrug off Conservative views without any thought. It’s a certain smugness, wrapped in arrogance, steeped in self-righteousness.

    • amytales

      Riiiight. My comment that you just replied to proves that’s not true. Besides, I was a social conservative Republican for about 15 years, so it’s not like I don’t understand conservatives’ arguments.

      • Mike M

        Social conservatism can mean different things. For example, you can couch abortion rights as socially conservative in the sense that you keep government out of people’s personal lives. The GOP has blocked that popular understanding. Don’t confuse the GOP with conservatism. Either way, social conservatism is not the same as fiscal conservatism which always means you don’t take people’s money unless you have a compelling and apolitical reason. It means you have high standards for managing other people’s money. The County has shown it is constantly reaching into taxpayers pockets to solve every problem it encounters. Proof? See the tax rates and increases in recent years. It has also demonstrated that many of these problems are of the County’s own making through poor management. Tighter management seems to be the solution of last resort.

  • FoetusBlow

    on a more personal(and side) note, Ken, might you not consider gracing the deplorables with a photo that’s a bit less proboscis-profound and sans that merde-eating grin…a bit scary, no?


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