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

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.

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