The just introduced an unpopular revenue source for discussion—a 4 percent meals tax.
Why a Meals Tax?
The Board has been stirred by "devolution"—a proposal in Gov. Bob McDonnell's transportation package to shift maintenance responsibilities of secondary roadways to local governments. Doing so would cost the county $100 million annually, and Tuesday, the board began discussing a 4 percent meals tax worth about $80 million as an alternative in filling the gap.
"The subject of a meals tax comes up quite a lot," said Board Chair Sharon Bulova to Patch from a board retreat at Lorton's Workhouse Arts Center. "If we end up having to take over the maintenance of roads, which I am opposed to, I think it will cost a significant amount of local revenue."
McDonnell's plan includes:
- A statewide report that would analyze devolution in localities with populations greater than 200,000.
- The creation of a Metropolitan Planning Organization in Northern Virginia
Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay fears a "deal with the devil." "If we're granted the authority to have a meals tax, but it requires us to take on road maintenance, then that's a deal with the devil that nets no new transportation projects for Fairfax County," he said. "All that allows us to do is take on a state responsibility they don't want to do anymore and to tax our residents."
A Tough Sell
The Board voted 7-3 against a meal tax in 2009, and county voters turned it down in 1992.
Fairfax County Executive Tony Griffin advised the board, if necessary, to put a positive spin on the concept of a meals tax. "Introduce it during a presidential election year to get the highest turnout," he said. "Impose a meals tax for four years, sunset it, list the [transportation] projects you are going to build [with the funds], and if it works, then come four years hence with a new list of projects... That's how you can build the trust. If you can demonstrate you've done the right thing they'll support it again."
Braddock District Supervisor John Cook, a Republican, is open to discussing a meals tax. "We can make a real difference in the quality of life in people, and it's what they want us to do, and what people want is the roads fixed. We ought to be addressing that. It is a local government function," he told the board. "But, to make it work, to go to the population and say: 'We've got these ideas on funding transportation,' we have to say: 'We won't touch your property taxes.'"
Bad for Business?
"Are they talking about that again?" said Holly Dougherty, executive director of the Mount Vernon-Lee Chamber of Commerce (MVLCC), to Patch. "In past years, the chamber has opposed meals taxes, particularly because of the burden on restaurants and start-ups. But right now, we have no position on it."
Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerry Hyland, a Democrat, supports the tax. "Restaurants have as much of an interest in education and transportation than anyone," he said. "They have a stake in the quality of roads and they should be at the table."
Katy Fike is the former president of the MVLCC. "Restaurants are afraid that if there's a meals tax, that customers will go to Alexandria or to Prince William County," she said. "I don't think it will have an impact. It hasn't in Arlington and they've had a meals tax for 10 or so years. Really, if some people want hamburgers at Five Guys on Richmond Highway, that's where they're going to go."