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Op-Ed: Meals Tax Would Place Burden on Low Income Residents

Burger at The Counter/Courtesy of The CounterThis is an op-ed submitted by George Mason University student Jalen Stubblefield. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

I grew up in Alexandria, VA and have lived here the vast majority of my life. I graduated from Edison High School in 2012, and will graduate from George Mason University this December. I am a Democrat and I oppose the Fairfax County Meals Tax. Here is why.

First and foremost, I understand that enrollment in schools has risen, and that teachers are severely underpaid. I understand the important role public education plays in America, ensuring that every child that works hard has the opportunity to succeed. What I do not understand is a Meals Tax.

Attending school at Edison, I had a number of friends that were growing up without parents in their household. No, the parents had not left them. They were working from early in the morning, sometimes before school started, to late at night, sometimes long after their children had slept.

Take my friend, we’ll call him Josh, his parents would drop him off long before school began, and he would walk home in the afternoon because his parents were working. For food, he was on the free-and-reduced meals program, and his parents would give him $5 for dinner since there was no time for them to cook during the week.

Josh’s story is typical. According to a report by the Commonwealth Institute,  8 percent of school-age children are growing up in poverty and 28 percent are on the free-and-reduced meals program.

Some are growing up in single-parent homes, or homes where both parents work and often times are required to eat out. Many families do not have the luxury of having a “stay home parent” anymore that can ensure that a home cooked meal is prepared for dinner. But families do have hard-working parents, who labor many hours a day, doing everything possible to ensure that their children are taken care of.

This is the reality for many residents in the county, but is ignored because Fairfax is labeled affluent. That label ignores the wealth gap. According to the 2010 Census, the per capita income of Fairfax County was $36,888, but the per capita income of McLean, one of the wealthiest areas, was $87,073. However, on the other side of the county, in Hybla Valley, the per capita income is $32,486.

It is important to note that the definition of poverty is uniform across the United States, while the cost of living is not. This means that while there are only 65,000 people living in poverty, half of which are children, that the number of people struggling to make a living is significantly higher.

Most Americans would agree that the government spends wastefully at all levels (how much is up for debate), however people already struggling to make a living do not have money to spend wastefully. For some, a meals tax would not increase the cost of food, but decrease the amount of food on their plates.

If the county is as desperate for money as they claim, there are other ways to increase revenue. According to a report by the Commonwealth institute, a one-cent increase in the property tax rate can raise nearly 22 million dollars. Not only would it generate revenue and affect all residents evenly, but it could also be written off in Federal taxes, negating the increase for some. Nobody should go hungry, but that would be the tough reality for some if this tax were to pass.

Jalen Stubblefield

Alexandria

44 Comments

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

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

Reston

21 Comments

Op-Ed: Vote For Meals Tax – and Stop Blaming Diversity

PassionFish Reston/Credit: Passionfood HospitalityThis is an op-ed from Reston resident Lynda Reyes. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

I am writing in support of the Meals Tax. My parents risked their lives to come to this country. They had nothing when they arrived, but they worked long hours at low wages to provide my family with opportunities that are not available in other countries. We made Fairfax County our home, but because of the rhetoric surrounding the Meals Tax, we do not feel welcome here anymore.

In conversations and online comments, there is a consistent emphasis on the burden imposed by kids who are not white and wealthy. One commenter on FCPS School Board member Pat Hynes’ recent op-ed stated that “the outputs of English language learners, special education students, emotionally challenged students, and less financially advantaged students is incommensurate with the financial input” — in other words, it is supposedly a waste of money to educate immigrant kids, kids with special needs, and poor kids.

It is indisputable that our county has changed over the past 20 years — we are more diverse in every sense. According to the FCPS FY17 budget, approximately 13 percent of FCPS students are receiving special education services, about 17 percent are receiving ESOL services, and nearly 25 percent of FCPS students are eligible for free- or reduced-price meals.

I challenge opponents of the Meals Tax to view this diversity as a strength rather than a weakness. You speak about costs, but I speak about opportunities.

The world has come to Fairfax County. FCPS students come from most of the countries in the world and speak nearly 200 languages. As of September 2015, nearly 50 percent of FCPS elementary students speak a language other than English at home.

Let us build on this foundation of diversity to grow new businesses and connections with other countries, to increase exports of physical and online products and services to foreign markets, and to recruit global companies to locate in Fairfax County, where they can find employees with the linguistic skills and cultural knowledge required to succeed in the modern global economy.

But we cannot succeed if we allow the quality of our public schools to decline. As Americans, we celebrate the Horatio Alger paragon of the person who rises from nothing to achieve great success. Every kid deserves the same chance to succeed, so it follows that every kid deserves a quality education.

It is time to set aside the rhetoric, and focus on our shared values and objectives. I ask you to vote YES for the Meals Tax on Nov. 8, so we can provide our public schools with the necessary resources to get the job done — to transform a multilingual and multicultural student body into the next generation of entrepreneurs and employees, to build the future even as we cherish and celebrate the past.

With respect,

Lynda Reyes
Reston

137 Comments

Op-Ed: PTA Urges Passing the Meals Tax

This is an op-ed by Tony Shivers, Vice President of Advocacy for the 
Fairfax County Council of PTAs (FCCPTA). It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

FCCPTAAs Vice President of Advocacy of the Fairfax County Council of PTAs, I urge my fellow parents, residents, and business owners to vote YES for the non-partisan meals tax on Nov. 8.

For just a few pennies more:

  • A 4-percent tax on prepared meals will generate $100 million for schools and county services, with $28 million being paid by tourists and visitors to Fairfax;
  • FCPS will receive 70 percent of those revenues to help stem the loss of our best teachers and address classroom size;
  • County services will receive 30 percent of net revenues to address unmet public safety needs and those of our libraries and parks;
  • Fairfax County can diversify its tax base and relieve property tax pressure on homeowners while maintaining its AAA bond rating; and capture revenue from travelers and non-resident workers that utilize County programs and services.

Why a meals tax, rather than a tax on cigarettes or alcohol? The answer is simple. Virginia state law strictly limits the taxing authority of its counties — a meals tax is the only option at this level of government.

Why not pursue state funding? The short answer is that our children will be grown by the time state funding is brought to an appropriate level for Fairfax County. The state continues to push more of the cost of K-12 education back to localities. Fairfax County estimates that the shortfall in state funding for K-12 education has climbed to more than $1 billion annually since 2009.

In fact, the reliability of the state money promised to education is now in question. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe recently advised the state legislature that that Commonwealth may experience as much as a $1.5 billion revenue shortfall in its two-year budget.

Historically, PTA is an advocacy organization, and the efforts of parents have resulted in immunizations, school lunches, child labor laws, among other accomplishments. PTAs do not promote candidates for election, but they do promote issues which benefit children.

Virginia PTA supports any meals tax where 50 percent of the revenue goes to public schools. Here in Fairfax the proposed meals tax would do far more.

The PTA’s motto is “Every Child. One Voice.” All Fairfax County children need the best education our community can deliver. Parents, please vote yes for your children. Vote yes for the meals tax.

Tony Shivers
Vice President of Advocacy
Herndon, VA

27 Comments

Op-Ed: Reasons Why Fairfax Needs a Meals Tax

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

140 Comments

More About Fairfax County Meals Tax at Thursday Forum

Ted's Bulletin at Reston Town CenterThe League of Women Voters of the Fairfax Area is co-sponsoring a forum this week on the proposed Fairfax County meals tax.

The question of a 4-percent tax on meals and other prepared foods will be presented to voters in the general election Nov. 8. The tax would add an additional $100 million annually to county coffers. Seventy percent of it would go to Fairfax County Public Schools.

Surrounding jurisdictions such as Alexandria, Arlington, the District, and the towns of Herndon, Vienna already have meal taxes.

Fairfax County last held a referendum on a meals tax in 1992. It failed.

Proponents say it is a necessary way to diversify revenue without continuing to raise property taxes. Opponents say it will hit lower income people the hardest and it is unfair to the restaurant industry, among other issues.

Here is what you need to know:

The forum is Thursday, Sept. 29, 7 to 9 p.m. at Luther Jackson Middle School Auditorium, 3020 Gallows Road, Falls Church.

The moderator will be Mary Kimm, editor of the Connection newspapers.

The panelists in opposition to the meals tax will be Springfield Supervisor Pat Herrity (R) and Jon Norton from Great American Restaurants. The panelists in support of the meals tax will be FCPS’ Hunter Mill School Board rep Pat Hynes and Phil Niedzielski-Eichner, management consultant.

The panel will take questions from the audience. Questions may also be submitted in advance by writing to [email protected] or by taking a survey.

33 Comments

Op-Ed: Vote No on Fairfax County Meals Tax

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

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

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

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

Frank W. Sullivan

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

22 Comments

Food Fight: New Groups Taking Sides in Battle for Fairfax Meals Tax

Jackson's Mighty Fine Food & Lucky Lounge (Photo via Flickr/dad)As Fairfax County residents are receiving a meals tax fact sheet in the mail, advocates on both sides of the issue are organizing for a battle this fall.

The meals tax referendum will be on the Fairfax County general election ballot on Nov. 8. It’s the first time since 1992 that voters will get a say on whether the county will add a meals tax to diversify its tax base. The 1992 referendum failed, and while the topic has been brought up nearly annually in recent recent years, it has not been presented to the voters.

The 4-percent meals tax would add about $100 million to county coffers annually, according to the fact sheet. About 70 percent would go back to Fairfax County Public Schools. The other 30 percent would go to county programs and services.

The 4-percent tax would be in addition to a 6-percent sales tax. Nearby jurisdictions such as the District of Columbia, Arlington and Alexandria have a meals tax, as do towns of Vienna, Herndon, Clifton, Falls Church and Fairfax City (those towns’ rates would stay the same; diners would not pay an additional county tax).

Not surprisingly, many school board members and civic groups fall in favor of the tax, while many restaurant owners are against it.

The food tax foes have organized into a new group called Fairfax Families Against the Food Tax.

Fairfax Families Against the Food Tax says it has about 1,500 individuals, as well as a host of businesses behind it. Included in the businesses are Reston restaurants American Tap Room; Be Right Burger; Clyde’s; Glory Days Grill; the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce; Hyatt Regency Reston; Jackson’s; and Silver Diner.

The group says the 4-percent tax on top of the 6-percent sales tax for all prepared foods and ready-to-eat meals from restaurants, grocery stores, movie theaters, gas stations, food trucks, hot dog stands, coffee shops, pizza delivery, and hotel food will be too much burden on some customers.

“This isn’t just a meals tax,” Jon Norton, Partner at Great American Restaurants (which includes Jackson’s), said in a statement. “In reality, it’s much broader than that because it adds an extra tax on people and families who are trying to buy prepared food items or even dine out as a family at their favorite restaurant. This really is a food tax.”

Coalition members say the tax will hit low- and middle-income people hardest. That’s a group that also relies heavily on prepared foods as they deal with demanding work schedules.

Meanwhile, proponents of the meals tax have organized Invest in Fairfax. Invest in Fairfax is embarking on a Vote Yes Meals Tax campaign.

The group says this is a crucial time for Fairfax County Public Schools.

“For just a few pennies more, we can support our kids, keep our community safe and vibrant, and relieve homeowners,” said Kimberly Adams, president of the Fairfax County Council of PTAs and a Vote Yes Meals Tax campaign chair. “We’re asking voters to get informed, get involved, and get out to vote.”

Backing Invest in Fairfax are the Arts Council of Fairfax County; Fairfax County Council of PTAs; Fairfax County Federation of Teachers; Fairfax County Professional Firefighters & Paramedics; Fairfax Education Association; and the League of Women Voters, among others.

David Edelman, chair of Invest in Fairfax, calls the meals tax a “win-win for everyone in our community” as it will stop annual property tax hikes in order to fully fund county and school services.

“Voting yes on this referendum is a vote to prevent property tax hikes and protect our schools, as well as support health, safety and other human services that support our quality of life in the county,” Edelman said in a statement.

Fairfax Families Against the Food Tax says the county needs better spending controls, not a meals tax.

“Giving government hundreds of millions of dollars more every year will only make the spending problem worse and won’t solve any problems at all,” Ed Hardy, Chef and Owner of Reston-based Bacon N’ Ed’s Mobile Gourmet Kitchen, says.

 

 

22 Comments

Op-Ed: FCPS Can’t Cut Any More From Budget

fcps logoThis is an op-ed from Vienna resident Jason V. Morgan. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Something on your mind? Send an opinion to [email protected]. Reston Now reserves the right to make edits to accepted submissions.

Dear Editor,

I am writing because there was a major misrepresentation of Fairfax County’s budget in the August 4, 2016, commentary submitted by Claude Andersen (Director of Operations, Clyde’s Restaurant Group).

Mr. Anderson opposes the upcoming meals tax referendum, but he is providing very bad information to justify his position. Mr. Andersen erroneously claims that the Fairfax County budget has increased by almost $1 BILLION since 2012.

However, the nominal growth since 2012 is only $442.1-474.8 MILLION, depending on whether one looks at FY2012/FY2016 or FY2013/FY2017. And in inflation-adjusted terms, the growth is only $265.1-298.4 MILLION (2016 dollars).

More importantly, Mr. Anderson ignores the fact that Fairfax County already suffered years of cuts before 2012. When unemployment went up and housing prices went down, Fairfax County Public Schools and the Fairfax County government shared in the pain by embracing austerity.

By FY2012, the inflation-adjusted Fairfax County budget was down $237.3 MILLION from FY2008 (2016 dollars). And inflation-adjusted per-pupil operating fund spending at Fairfax County Public Schools was down $1,451 (2016 dollars). Inflation-adjusted per-pupil operating fund spending at FCPS still has not fully recovered.

The fact is, the Fairfax County budget annual percentage inflation-adjusted growth since FY2008 is only 0.44 percent; the FCPS operating budget annual percentage inflation-adjusted growth since FY2008 is only 0.73 percent.

In contrast, the annual percentage growth of the general population during around the same period is 0.97 percent (2007-15), while the annual percentage growth in the number of pupils at Fairfax County Public Schools since FY2008 is 1.3 percent.

Thus, both the Fairfax County budget and the FCPS operating budget have been outpaced by increased demand since FY2008. The FCPS budget has been particularly stretched thin because both the number of students receiving English for speakers of other languages services and the number of students eligible for free or reduced price lunches have increased by almost 50 percent since FY2008 (an annual percentage growth of over 4.5 percent). Many of these students are at risk of falling far behind without some additional time, attention, and resources.

Additional time, attention, and resources costs a little extra, but every child deserves the opportunity to make the most of his or her vast, innate potential.

Mr. Andersen’s baseless claim that our county just needs to better emphasize “frugality, efficiency, and good management” is a dangerous fantasy based on a distorted picture of Fairfax County finances. In the face of economic challenges and increased demands, Fairfax County and FCPS have become significantly more efficient since FY2008. But the low-hanging fruit has been picked.

Neither Mr. Anderson nor anyone else has proposed reasonable ideas for greater efficiency that come anywhere close to the much-needed $97 MILLION revenue boost we would get by adopting a meals tax.

The time for mindless austerity in Fairfax County must come to an end. Unemployment is down while income is up; yet Fairfax County is at risk of being ideologically-driven into a self-inflicted prolonged decline. We need to vote YES! for the meals tax referendum on November 8th to diversify our tax base, to keep real property tax rates from rising sharply, and to preserve the quality of our schools, services, and communities.

Jason V. Morgan

Vienna

56 Comments

Op-Ed: Great Schools and Restaurant Meals Out Too

FCPS School Board member Pat HynesThis is an op-ed by Pat Hynes, Fairfax County Public Schools Board member representing the Hunter Mill District. She is speaking for herself and not the entire school board in this post, which also does not represent the opinion of Reston Now.

If you’ve ever participated in a “Dining for Dollars” event for your local school, you know how important the relationships between school PTAs and neighborhood restaurants are.

That’s why when the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors recently voted to put a meals tax referendum on the November ballot, they were careful to signal that some of the revenue — about $3 million annually — would go back to restaurants to pay the costs of collecting the tax. As we diversify and stabilize our community’s revenue base for important needs like the school system, local businesses must be supported as well.

Counties in Virginia have very little flexibility or authority when it comes to generating revenue, and a meals tax is one of those few options.

Nearly every surrounding jurisdiction currently uses a meals tax to help diversify its revenue base, including the Towns of Vienna and Herndon, Fairfax City, Falls Church, Arlington and Alexandria. The revenue from the proposed 4-percent Fairfax County meals tax is estimated to bring in almost $100 million to the County’s annual operating budget. After approximately $3 million of that annual revenue goes back to restaurants to pay their costs, 70 percent of the remaining revenue would go to the schools.

After almost 10 years of austerity, FCPS is spending $1,000 less per child, in real dollars, than in 2009. Those savings have come from years of frozen teacher pay, class size increases and deep cuts in administration. Thanks to our county and state funders, fiscal year 2017 is looking brighter, with an increase in funding that will allow us to lower elementary class size caps and push FCPS teacher pay halfway to the regional market average.

Full recovery for the school system will require at least a few more years of sustained reinvestment, however, and annual property tax increases cannot be the answer. The annual boost from a meals tax would provide that marginal difference we need to continue investing in our teachers and our kids as we recover, without going back to homeowners for higher property taxes every year.

Stabilizing the county’s revenue base with a meals tax helps not only the schools, of course. Fairfax County is a great place to live because of all the important public services we rely on. Police and firefighters keep us safe, accessible parks and recreation facilities keep us healthy, libraries are important centers of community life, and human services support all of us throughout the stages of our lives. A stronger revenue base would help make all of this possible and provide some relief to property owners.

For restaurant owners and workers who are worried about what a meals tax might mean for them, I encourage them to look at our neighboring jurisdictions that have had a meals tax for many years. Every time I drive through the Town of Vienna, for example, a new restaurant has opened up and very few ever seem to close. The experience in surrounding jurisdictions is that restaurants continue to thrive, along with those great partnerships between neighborhood eateries and neighborhood schools. When we all do our part for kids, everyone wins.

The Nov. 8 meals tax referendum will be an important opportunity for the community to weigh in on our priorities. Vote YES to the meals tax!

Pat Hynes

Hunter Mill representative on the Fairfax County School Board

Photo: Pat Hynes/file photo

29 Comments

Op-Ed: Voters Should Say NO to the Meals Tax

Election Day/file photoThis is a commentary by Claude Andersen, Clyde’s Restaurant Group Director of Operations. It does not represent the opinion of Reston Now.

Fairfax County government officials are gearing up for an election year battle. Granted, they’re not up for election, but there’s a high-stakes question on the Nov. 8 ballot that will impact our county in far-reaching ways.

It’s meals tax proposal by the County Board of Supervisors that would impose an additional 4-percent tax on all prepared foods and meals in our county —  on top of the existing 6 percent sales tax already in effect.

The meals tax would raise an estimated $100 million per year in new tax revenue, and comes on top of the $100 million increase in real estate taxes imposed on county property owners in just last year.

Calling it a “meals tax” is misleading. Besides adding another 4 percent on top of the 6 percent (for a total of 10 percent) already levied on every meal served at every restaurant in our county, from fast food to fine dining establishments, it doesn’t stop there.

The new tax would also be imposed on anything considered a “meal” — from beverages served with a meal to prepared foods — any ready-to-eat food you buy from a restaurant, deli, cafeteria, lunchroom, bar, push cart, food truck, hot dog stand, convenience store, gas station, grocery store or hotel banquet costs would be taxed an additional 4 percent for a total of 10 percent.

For people at any income level, that’s a significant portion of the food they buy and, while it’s not a tax on groceries, it’s about as close as you can get.

The claim is that 70 percent of the new taxes would go to fund the county’s schools, with the remaining 30 percent dedicated to county services, capital improvements, and property tax relief.

(It’s interesting to note that while they just raised taxes on homeowners they now want to provide “relief” by asking those same people to pay more for prepared meals! It’s asking property owners to pay again for their own “relief.”)

So, why is this a bad idea and why should voters reject it?

First, our county budget has increased by almost $1 BILLION since 2012. County leaders need to understand that the solution to any perceived problems shouldn’t be to demand more money from county residents and visitors. Our leaders need to do their jobs and spend our money wisely by placing the emphasis on frugality, efficiency, and good management, not just more money.

We’re not undertaxed … but that doesn’t mean more taxes are a good option or solution. Rather, we need to control our spending, and spend wisely.

Second, it’s not just a restaurant tax. It’s a regressive tax on every hot dog, deli sandwich, or grocery store chicken we buy. While it’s not a grocery tax, it’s reasonable to say that this tax will find its way to some of the food on most dinner tables in our homes every day.

Third, this tax will make us less competitive by raising the cost of living and visiting here. We will lose our advantage with tourists, conferences, and other events vis-a-vis surrounding jurisdictions. And by passing the second major tax increase in a single year, we will be signaling to businesses to think again before locating in Fairfax County.

And, fourth, this tax unfairly targets a single industry. In doing that it will hit small, neighborhood bars and restaurants and the people who work there hardest of all. There are tens of thousands of people working in county restaurants who will see their profits squeezed and gratuities decreased as the taxes on a customer’s bill pile up on top of the cost of the meal.

On Nov. 8, the meals tax is the last item on the county ballot. Voters should vote their choice for President, for Congress, and then cast a vote for themselves by saying NO to the last question, the meals tax.

Claude Andersen

Clyde’s Restaurant Group, Director of Operations

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Supervisors OK Meals Tax Primer for Upcoming Referendum

Not Your Average Joe's RestonComing soon to a mailbox near you: The Fairfax County official information sheet on the upcoming meals tax referendum.

In June, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved the referendum for the Nov. 8 election, saying then they were prepared for a battle on the issue.

Ultimately, it will be up to Fairfax County voters to decide whether the county will get a 4-percent meals tax, similar to what is already in place in the towns of Herndon and Vienna; Fairfax City; and Arlington and Alexandria.

The addition of a meals tax has been discussed for years, but was last put to referendum in 1992, where it failed.

But with the county and its school system continually in a budget crunch, Hunter Mill Supervisor Cathy Hudgins motioned last spring to revisit the issue.

The tax would raise about $100 million annually, 70 percent of which would go to Fairfax County Public Schools. About $3 million would go back to the restaurants themselves to offset the cost of the tax to the businesses.

Meanwhile, take a look at the details from the county in the document below.

2016 Meals Tax Referendum Pamphlet by Karen Goldberg Goff on Scribd

Photo: Not Your Average Joe’s Reston/file photo

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Meals Tax Referendum is Coming – How Will You Vote?

"I voted" sticker. (Photo via Flickr/vox efx)The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted on Tuesday to put the question of a meals tax to Fairfax County voters this November.

The tax would add 4 percent to your meal. That’s in addition to a 6-percent sales tax, and would be applicable on restaurant meals, poured beverages, takeout food and prepared food from grocery and convenience stores.

The tax would give Fairfax County an estimated $100 million annually. The supervisors said 70 percent of that would go to Fairfax County Public Schools; the rest would help fund county services.

Nearby jurisdictions, including Arlington, Alexandria, D.C. and the towns of Herndon, Vienna and Fairfax, already have a food tax. They would bot be subject to the Fairfax County tax.

So, how do you plan to vote?

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Fairfax County Citizens Will Vote on Meals Tax This Fall

Ted's Bulletin at Reston Town Center The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors voted 8-2 on Tuesday to add a meals tax referendum question to the Nov. 8 general election ballot.

They say they are now prepared for a real fight on both sides of the issue, but ultimately it will be up to Fairfax County voters whether the 4 percent tax gets implemented in summer 2017.

The addition of a meals tax has been discussed for years, but was last put to referendum in 1992, where it failed.

However, the county is continually finding itself in an annual budget crunch, particularly as the needs of Fairfax County Public Schools are growing. The board says it will allocate 70 percent of the nearly $100 million annual expected meals tax revenue to the schools, with the remainder going for county services.

About $3 million of the nearly $100 million in revenue would go to back to restaurants/businesses to offset costs of implementing the meals tax, the county says.

The supervisors’ transfer to the schools was $2 billion this year.

Several supervisors said prior to Tuesday’s vote that they would like to see more specifically what the schools will do with the money. Hunter Mill Supervisor Cathy Hudgins, a proponent of the meals tax, made a motion to delay the vote until after a joint retreat with the school board, which is scheduled for next week. The motion failed.

Still, several supervisors said the schools need to show a good faith effort in how they spend the extra money. FCPS teacher pay continues to lag behind neighboring counties, and Supervisor John Cook (Braddock) said “we are at a tipping point on needing to bring teacher pay up to market.”

“If I hear [the schools] say they are spending the money on an elite, special program and not on teacher pay, then I will campaign against it,” said Cook. “I am not happy about a meals tax. I worry about local places without a liquor license and a high profit margin. But it is time to have a dialogue.”

Supervisor Pat Herrity (Springfield), who, along with Supervisor Linda Smyth (Providence) voted against the referendum, said Fairfax County property taxes have gone up 26 percent in the last five years and the county cannot keep asking citizens to pay. The supervisors voted this spring for an increase of 4 cents per $100 of home value.

The need to diversify the county revenue sources — and not keep raising real estate taxes — is one reason to be in favor of a meals tax, several other supervisors said.

Herrity also made a motion to clarify to voters that the 4-percent meals tax is in addition to a 6-percent sales tax diners already pay. That motion failed.

“I have talked to a lot of residents,” said Herrity. “The majority of them don’t understand [the rise will bring taxes] to 10 percent. We need to be clear to our residents what they are voting for.”

The board plans to print and distribute a voter’s guide in coming months to county residents.

The tax, should it pass, would be applicable to restaurant meals, as well as from food trucks and prepared foods from a store. Beverages that are poured would also be taxed. Bottled/canned beverages would be exempt.

Nearby areas that have a food tax include the City of Fairfax, the Town of Herndon, the Town of Vienna, and Alexandria and Arlington counties. The District of Columbia has a 10-percent meals tax.

Supervisor Chair Sharon Bulova said she does not think the typical Fairfax County diner decides where to eat based on taxes.

“When I go to Coastal Flats at Fairfax Corner, I do not pay a meals tax,” she said. “When I go to the Ice House Cafe in Herndon, I do. It does not make a difference to me. I think people make choices on where they feel like eating and do not much notice or make a decision based on [taxes].”

Still, Bulova said she will work with the local restaurant industry, which has already voiced opposition to the proposed measure.

“I hear the restaurants and their concerns,” she said. “Restaurants are our great corporate neighbors. I hope we are able to keep our heads [in the coming months]. This is not a fight against the restaurant industry.”

Photo: Ted’s Bulletin at Reston Town Center/File photo

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Supervisors to Vote on Meals Tax Referendum Tuesday

View from outdoor deck at Red's TableThe Fairfax County Board of Supervisors is expected to approve on Tuesday the steps necessary to get a meals tax referendum on the ballot for November’s general election.

The supervisors are seeking to add a 4-percent meals tax because it will give the county an extra estimated $99 million annually. Seventy percent of that would go to Fairfax County Public Schools, which has faced budget constraints the last several years.

FCPS, which has nearly 200,000 students, received a transfer of just over $2 billion from the supervisors this spring. The county gives 52 percent of its budget to the schools.

The tax would be on restaurant meals, of course, but also prepared foods sold at grocery and convenience stores. Surrounding jurisdictions such as the towns of Herndon and Vienna, as well as Arlington and Alexandria, have meals taxes.

According to Virginia law, the referendum can only be added to the ballot by order from the county attorney, so Tuesday’s vote is actually a motion for that action. The supervisors have already held a public hearing, so this is an action-only item.

Here’s the supervisors’ full resolution:

For the purpose of reducing dependence on real estate taxes, shall the Board of Supervisors of Fairfax County, Virginia, be authorized to levy a tax on prepared food and beverages, otherwise known as a meals tax, as allowed by Virginia Code § 58.1-3833, at a rate not to exceed four percent (4%) of the amount charged for prepared food and beverages (which, based upon state law, is applicable only to sales outside of the town of Clifton, and towns of Herndon and Vienna that have already implemented a meals tax)?

The revenues generated shall be dedicated to the following purposes:

1. 70 percent of the revenues to Fairfax County Public Schools.

2. 30 percent of the revenues to County services, capital improvements and property tax relief.

The Resolution directs the County Attorney to provide certified copies of the adopted Resolution to the Circuit Court and to petition it to order the election as requested by the Board.

The law requires the Court to enter the order if the request is found to be in proper order. Upon entry of the order, the Clerk of Court is required to send a copy to the State Board of Elections.

The Fairfax County Electoral Board and General Registrar will then prepare the ballots in time to make them available to voters beginning with absentee voting on September 23, 2016. After the referendum election, the Secretary of Fairfax County’s Electoral Board will certify the results of the election to the State Board of Elections and to the Circuit Court.

If a majority of voters vote in favor of the question, then the referendum has passed and the Circuit Court will enter a final order to that effect. The Board of Supervisors would then need to adopt an ordinance establishing the meals tax, subject to the same public notice and hearing requirements applicable to the adoption of any ordinance imposing taxes. It is anticipated that this action would be taken by the Board in early 2017.

County documents say holding the referendum will cost $105,000, mostly for printed materials to be distributed to Fairfax County households.

There have already been advocacy groups formed on both sides of the issue, Expect to hear more from them in coming months.

If passed by voters on Nov. 8, the meals tax would go into effect July 1, 2017.

A meals tax question last was on the ballot in Fairfax County in 1992. It failed.

Photo: Red’s Table at South Lakes Village Center/file photo

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