Column: Yes to the Meals Tax

Column: Yes to the Meals Tax

Reduces dependence on property tax.

As a businessman here in Fairfax and a former member of the Fairfax County School Board, I write on behalf of a coalition of thousands of homeowners, parents, teachers, firefighters, police, friends and users of our libraries and our parks and recreation facilities, and those who belong to churches and non-profit organizations working to ensure that Fairfax County also protects those in need [].

Here since 1988, I have always valued Fairfax’s pragmatic approach to local government services; i.e., we will pay for the cost of an excellent education system and high-quality services as long as the cost is reasonable and affordable.

Hit with the double whammy of the great recession and the federal budget sequestration fiasco, the Board of Supervisors and School Board did what they had to do under the circumstances — they cut costs and reduced services.

The county reduced annual expenditures by $300 million and eliminated 700 jobs; for the school system, $500 million and 2,100 jobs.

The maintenance backlog has grown to over $150 million in recreation and park facilities alone.

We are spending less in real dollars per pupil this year than in 2008. We are losing our best teachers to surrounding jurisdictions, because salaries are no longer competitive in the region. Class sizes are larger.

Economic recovery has been slow. While home values have grown modestly, vacancies in office buildings are at a 25-year high and revenue from commercial property tax is at historic lows.

Compounding our challenge, state funding — particularly for schools — continues to decline, with a funding shortfall for K‐12 education climbing to more than $1 billion annually since 2009.

With 65 percent of county revenue now being generated by residential property tax, homeowners are carrying a substantial and growing share of the cost of services.

Without a more diverse revenue base, we risk school system excellence and we risk the caliber of county services that underpin our quality of life. In an article earlier this year, the Washington Post characterized this reality as Fairfax “fraying around the edges.”

This is the setting for the meals tax referendum before us on Nov. 8.

Five great things will happen by approving the meals tax:

  1. $100 million will be generated. Almost a third of this revenue — $28 million — will be paid by tourists and visitors to Fairfax.

  2. Seventy percent of the revenues will be directed to the school system to help stem the loss of our best teachers and reduce class size.

  3. Our quality of life will be strengthened by addressing unmet police and firefighter needs and those of our libraries and parks.

  4. The backlog in county and school facility and infrastructure maintenance needs can be reduced, while also preserving our AAA bond rating.

  5. Our tax base will be more diverse, relieving property tax pressure on homeowners.

Incredibly, Fairfax can do these great things by paying pennies-on-the-dollar when we eat out. Few of us ever notice paying Arlington County, Fairfax City, Falls Church and Vienna when we eat in their restaurants, yet we do.

If you agree that it is important to keep the best teachers in our classrooms, reduce class size, continue to protect our safety and maintain our quality of life; and finally — if you believe we need to be less dependent on homeowners to pay for all of the above — it is clear that we should vote yes for the meals tax. It’s literally a pennies-on-the-dollar solution.