To the Editor:
I am writing to oppose the Meals Tax Referendum. I attended a meeting last week in which the referendum was debated. Attendees included Mount Vernon Supervisor Dan Storck and Springfield Supervisor Pat Herrity.
Supervisor Storck actually said this in support of the tax: "This is about yes for me, yes, yes. First off, it is a chance, it is a chance for us to grow and help our restaurants here locally thrive. Yes, the restaurants in this area will thrive, I think, because of this meals tax ultimately, I absolutely do." Increasing the tax burden targeted on a specific industry will help that industry thrive? Nonsense.
The brochure mailed by the county concerning the meals tax says the following: "A meals tax would diversify the county's tax revenue base. The Board of Supervisors is seeking authority to impose a meals tax to reduce the county's dependence on real estate taxes." When I read these sentences, what they mean to me is that the purpose for the Meals Tax is not to increase the net taxes we pay but, rather, to spread the taxes over more categories of taxation. If the purpose for the meals tax is to diversify taxes, not raise them, the referendum would require the BOS to reduce the real estate tax rate to a level offsetting the increase in revenue attributable to the revenue from the meals tax. The representation that diversification is the only goal is false. If voters approve the referendum, taxes are going up.
The referendum language states: "70 percent of the net revenues to Fairfax County Public Schools" and "30 percent of the net revenues to county services, capital improvements and property tax relief." What this means is there is no guarantee that imposition of the new tax will result in material reduction in real estate taxes. As quoted above, the 30 percent not going to schools can be spent by the county in three categories, county services, capital improvements, and property tax relief. There is no requirement that property tax relief will comprise a significant percentage of that 30 percent. Since 70 percent of the new tax (2.8 cents out of the 4 cent tax) cannot be for property tax relief, this is an added tax burden for taxpayers. There are over 400,000 housing units in the county. The BOS can satisfy the referendum requirement to provide property tax relief by awarding every housing unit owner a $1 discount on their tax bill, saying they've provided the required "tax relief" and then spend the other $29,600,000 of the 30 percent of the projected revenue on the vaguely worded "County services" and "capital improvements." If all the 30 percent were used to reduce real estate taxes, the reduction would only average about $75 per housing unit. Quite small.
There is no guarantee approval of the referendum and imposition of this new tax will result in a dollar more going to our schools. The BOS decides how much money is to be transferred to the school system from tax revenues from all sources during budget hearings and votes in March-April each year. In the most recent budget, that number was $1.7 billion. If the new tax is enacted, the BOS could very well decide to maintain the level of school funding at $1.7 billion or even reduce the number. At the $1.7 billion level, that would mean the BOS is basically adding the predicted $70 million revenue from the Meals Tax they are legally obligated to transfer to the school system (70 percent of the predicted $100 million) to $1.63 billion appropriated from other sources (a total of $1.7 billion) and thus freeing up $100 million (the 70 percent for schools plus the 30 percent for county services, capital improvements and property tax relief) to be spent elsewhere at BOS discretion with virtually no real estate tax relief required to be included. This demonstrates the clear fraud in the BOS sales pitch for the Meals Tax.
Our schools need increased revenue. There is no guarantee enacting the Meals Tax will provide that increased revenue. The solution is electing politicians capable of gaining Fairfax County more than the current 23 percent return on the 100 percent of the tax money (derived from the state income tax, sales taxes, and real estate transfer taxes) we currently send to Richmond. Increasing that percentage to 26 percent would equal all the revenue projected to be derived from the Meals Tax with no increase in taxation.
Supervisor Herrity said this to an audience member at the meeting: "You were at the meeting when Supervisor Gross said we just need to put whatever language is in there so we can get it passed." There it is in a nutshell: say anything to get it passed. Printing and mailing the brochure cost taxpayers over $400,000. I suggested that BOS members who approved the one-sided brochure should be asked to reimburse the county treasury out of their county salaries. I double-down on that suggestion.
For all of these reasons, the referendum should be defeated. It does not amount solely to a diversification of revenues, rather, it amounts to a tax increase. There is no guarantee enactment of the tax will result in a larger appropriation to our schools. The only guarantee is that it will give our BOS $100 million more to spend as they wish. Vote No.
H. Jay Spiegel