Mount Vernon When I was running for Fairfax County School Board last year in the Mount Vernon District, one of the main issues discussed during the campaign was the forecasted (at the time) $100 million budget deficit for Fairfax County Public Schools. Public hearings were held and a plan on how to bridge the gap was proposed. In spite of many calling for a closer look at how money is being spent, the Board of Supervisors voted earlier this year to increase property taxes by 4 percent to help raise additional revenues for our schools. This averages about $300 in increased taxes for each homeowner.
That additional revenue was apparently not enough, because now in the spirit of diversifying our revenues and funding our schools, the four percent meals tax is on the ballot on Nov. 8. According to state Sen. Scott Surovell’s recent commentary, a four percent meals tax is equal to $.04 of increased real estate taxes – or “the equivalent of $200/year on a $500,000 home.” Before voting on Nov. 8, consider the following:
Go through your personal budget tonight and decide where you are going to cut $500 to support these tax increases.
The meals tax only diversifies county revenues by approximately 2.5 percent. Don’t expect a reduction in your property taxes anytime soon because of the meals tax.
Meals tax revenue designated for general county services (30 percent, or approximately $30 million/year) will do little to renovate schools and remove trailers parked in their backyards, especially with a $2 billion backlog in capital improvements. Voters should not be led on to believe this will happen through the general fund; it will happen through a bond issue for capital expenditures.
In addition, ask your elected officials the following questions:
Will you commit to not asking for additional school funding for five years? If not, then you can take this to the bank — your property taxes will be raised again or the percentage of the meals tax will be increased to raise additional revenues within the next five years. Don’t expect the meals tax, which will only equal approximately 2.5 percent of the county budget, to curb the appetite for additional revenues.
Will you commit to doing a comprehensive assessment on how to reduce expenditures and then implementing them before asking for more revenue? Many are not convinced that the Fairfax County government has committed itself to finding additional means for efficiency. Finding efficiencies of only 2 percent in the $4.01 billion budget will free up an additional $80 million.
Will you commit to permanently keeping school funding at least $70 million (70 percent of the annual revenues from the meals tax) above FY 2017 levels to ensure the meals tax is in addition to current school funding? I have seen time and again advocates supporting taxes, casinos, lotteries, etc. in the spirit of helping education. What eventually happens is the money is absorbed into the general fund and is not a permanent supplement to the education budget. The Washington Post said in its recent editorial about the meals tax that elected officials conceivably could supplant rather than supplement the additional school funding. This would betray its stated purpose and “the right response would be to vote those officials out of office.”
If the answer to any of these questions is no, then I urge you to vote against the meals tax.
I have two kids in FCPS and appreciate the excellent teachers and quality education they are receiving. But when are we going to take a hard look at how we are spending taxpayer dollars in Fairfax County? Diversifying $200 million in increased taxes in one year is still a $200 million tax increase. The current rate of tax increases, which far surpasses the rate of personal income increases, is not sustainable. Our public officials were elected to make courageous decisions during difficult times. It does not take much courage and ingenuity to raise taxes twice in one year to make ends meet.