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Monday, September 12, 2016

Fairfax County officials push for passage of meals tax

FCPS Superintendent Karen Garza speaks in support of a meals tax.
Additional resources are essential if Fairfax County is to maintain a high-quality school system, said Schools Superintendent Karen Garza at a fundraiser Sept. 11 in support of a meals tax.

“I’m profoundly proud of our school system and also deeply concerned about its future,” said Garza, who noted she was participating in the event hosted by the Vote Yes Meals Tax campaign on her own time and as a private citizen.

When voters go to the polls on Nov. 8, they will have a chance to vote yes or no on a meals tax that would raise the cost of dining out in Fairfax County by 4 percent. The tax is estimated to generate approximately $99 million in the first year, with 28 percent of that amount from non-county residents, including commuters and tourists.

If passed, 70 percent of the net revenues from the meals tax would be dedicated to Fairfax County Public Schools. The balance would support county services, capital improvements, and property tax relief.

The fundraiser, in the backyard of a home in Falls Church, attracted a long list of public officials, including supervisors, school board members, and state legislators.

The Board of Supervisors authorized a referendum on a meals tax in June. The board does not have the authority to impose a meals tax unless it’s approved by voters

The supervisors believe a meals tax is important to reduce the county’s dependence on real estate taxes. Currently about 65 percent of the county’s general fund budget comes from real estate taxes. Almost 90 percent of the county’s non-property tax revenues are capped, limited, or controlled by the state.

The school system already eats up 52 percent of the county budget. State and federal budget cuts are making FCPS more reliant on county revenue, while FCPS costs are increasing, mainly due to enrollment increases.

Without a meals tax, the county would have to cut core services, including education and infrastructure.

Opponents of a meals tax charge it would drive restaurants out of business. But that has not been the case in other communities that have meal taxes.

No one decides not to go to a restaurant in Falls Church or Fairfax because they have a meals tax,” said Del. Marcus Simon. “No one thinks like that. It’s not part of the calculation.”

Fairfax County is one of the few jurisdictions in the area that doesn’t have a meal tax. The District of Columbia’s meal tax is 10 percent, and Falls Church, Arlington, Fairfax City, and Alexandria each have a 4 percent meals tax.

“We really, really need it,” Simon said, noting that his kids’ two favorite teachers left for schools in Arlington, where their salaries are $10,000 to $15,000 higher.

Teacher pay in Fairfax County is still less than half way to the market average in the region, despite a $40 million budget increase approved last year, Garza said. “Never should Fairfax County be at the very bottom in compensation in this region.”

BoS Chair Sharon Bulova believes the meals tax will pass. The last time a meals tax was on the ballot, in 1992, the timing was bad, she said. It was presented to the public in a special election, which drew a lot of opponents, while this year it’s on a ballot with the presidential candidates.

“No one like paying taxes,” Bulova said, but people want government services. She urged advocates for the meals tax to talk to neighbors to urge them to support it and when dining out, tell restaurateurs who oppose it that they’re wrong on this issue.

“It’s not going to be easy but we will absolutely do this,” she said.

The meals tax would cover all ready-to-eat prepared food and beverages purchased at restaurants, cafeterias, coffee shops, taverns, delis, hotdog stands, and food trucks. It would also apply to ready-to-eat foods, such as items from delis and salad bars at grocery and convenience stores.

The meals tax would not apply to groceries, vending machines, cafeterias restricted to employees, schools, daycare centers, hospitals, nursing homes, and meals served by nonprofits as fundraising activities. The tax would not apply to food sales in Clifton, Herndon, and Vienna, which already have a meals tax.

If the meals tax is approved by voters, it would take effect on July 1, 2017. The BoS might hold public hearings in February on an ordinance to establish the rate and terms of the meals tax.


  1. Tell restaurateurs that they are wrong? Tell restaurateurs that it is wrong to be concerned about their bottom line? Tell restaurateurs that they should be the ones to bail out our failing school system?

    I don’t think so. I will be voting no.

    1. If restauranteurs are more concerned about their bottom line than supporting the community that allows their business to exist, then maybe would be customers should take their discretionary dining budget to a restauranteur that is more supportive of the community it serves.

    2. Wow. You are delusional if you think a restaurant cannot be concerned about its bottom line. Restaurants are businesses, they are not cash cows. Many restaurants constantly struggle to stay open. There is NO reason why it should have to bail out a mismanaged school system. We thrown money at the problem but it will not fix everything that is wrong with how the schools are being run and it is not our businesses' burden to carry. Maybe if we stopped voting for these local politicians that are completely ineffective we might see some improvement. I will also be voting no.

    3. 7 Corners 79/13/16, 8:53 AM

      Anonymous9/12/16, 3:25 PM, are you concerned about YOUR bottom line?

      I am not sure why they should not be. It is a fickle business to begin with. In my opinion we are already lacking in diversity in our restaurant choices and chain heavy.

      I hate when I go to another city and there are mostly the same restaurants that I have here. There is a place for chains but I also like mom and pop shops as well.

    4. It will be Fairfax County consumers that will ultimately pay this tax. They will also experience fewer choices in where they can eat out for a while. That's how it works. Restaurateurs' bottom lines will at first get hit by the added tax. Then, marginally profitable restaurants will go out of business--along with their workers, by the way--reducing the supply of restaurant choices for consumers. Eventually, but before too long, restaurant food prices will go back up to meet the new market equilibrium (supply vs demand--remember, fewer choices). Those restauranteurs that survive the initial period will be back to making the same amount of money again (perhaps even more, and now with a greater share of the market). Permanently higher restaurant food prices will be the ultimate result of extracting more gold for the king (er, Board of Supervisors). That's how it works, folks. They make it look like a "tax on business," but its really a tax on consumers and a reduction in their choices. That's how your government rapes you and wealth gets concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.

  2. Will the Mason District Council will pass a resolution in support of the meals tax?

  3. How about the schools focus on education instead of all this stupid technology that is all bells and whistles. Bailey's upper elementary has a "state of the art" TV studio - seriously? That money could have been better spent actually educating the kids. And get rid of iPads - that does nothing for kids except turn them into zombies (see recent Time magazine article calling technology in schools a $60B hoax: The county and the schools need to budget better and put the funds where they make most sense, not just throw money blindly at the problem. And it should not be restaurants' jobs to pay for these shortfalls and mismanagement.

  4. vote against. the BOS don't need anymore money to mis manage or give them another raise with.

  5. The first 3% of the tax money collected (from the diners - not the restaurant owners) will be given back to restaurant owners to make them whole for the process they incur while collecting and remitting the tax. This not any different than what is collected and remitted now to the state or by restaurants in all surrounding cities and jurisdictions like Arlingron, Alexandria, DC, the cities of Falls Church & Fairfax and towns of Herndon, Reston and Vienna. 28% of this tax will be borne by non-residents, on average. That takes the burden off property taxes while diversifying our tax base and relieving homeowners. All monies raised here stay here, unlike our sales, income and car taxes, which are immediately transported to Richmond and not proportionately returned. This tax makes sense and good, healthy schools are what attract and keep businesses here in Fairfax. Invest in Fairfax. #yesmealstax

    1. Every stupid idea supported by the typical politician (see Simon) and school bureaucrat (see Garza) is defended by claiming the money raised goes to support good schools.

      Lotteries, casino gambling, legalizing pot, taxing the services of hard-working mom and pop restaurateurs.

      Where will it end?

      Next will be supporting legalization of prostitution as long as the services of prostitutes carry high tax rates which are dedicated to our "underfunded...falling behind...crumbling...schools."

      There is no end to the stupidity that certain politicians and school bureaucrats will support with great smugness, while reserving moral indignation to opponents; to increase government funding allegedly to improve the schools. When instead they need to hold themselves and the school bureaucrats responsible for wasting the community's money on expenses that do not improve students' education.

    2. School bureaucrat? No, you're thinking of Jack Dale. Garza actually has a clue about education and genuinely cares about the students.

      As others here (and everywhere) have said: there are meals taxes everywhere around us but Fairfax County. If people are going to eat out, they're going to eat out; a few cents more is only going drive away some bitter grumps; since misery loves company, their buddies will go with them, and the ambiance of our local restaurants will rise. That's better business, friends.

    3. The demand for eating out (and buying prepared foods) is elastic. Meaning when you increase the cost of doing so by increasing taxes, you will inevitably decrease the demand. The result will be some restaurants will go out of business and some people will lose their jobs. And, even if you think it is a worthy cause to incur more taxes for the benefit of public school children, there is absolutely no legal requirement that the revenue generated from this tax actually be spent on FCPS.

      You should only vote for this tax if you believe Fairfax officials are wisely spending all of their current billions of dollars in revenue and that you are not already paying enough in taxes.

      BTW, I actually do take into consideration the extra taxes in DC, the Cities of Alexandria and a Falls Church when I decide where to shop and dine.

    4. @12:27 I don't see how a meals/prepared foods tax takes the burden off property tax payers. Did I miss the part where they will be refunding me a portion of the property taxes I pay once they collect the meals tax? No, I will be taxed just like those who live outside Fairfax County and dine here. So in addition to all of the other taxes I pay (income, personal property, sales, nanny, etc.), I should vote in favor to pay another tax? I don't think so. By diversifying their types of tax, they are not alleviating personal property taxpayers at all, they are just broadening their tax base--taxing non-property owners-- they aren't doing me the Fairfax County property-tax payer any favors. By your logic as long as others in addition to myself are being taxed, I should be in favor of the tax. That makes absolutely no sense. Again if anyone believes that they don't pay enough in taxes, all jurisdictions will voluntarily take tax "donations."

      Last, increasing taxes, increases the cost of doing business. Businesses do not go to a place because of good schools, they locate where they can make money because unlike government they cannot continue to lose money indefinitely and stay in business.

  6. I think in order to support the schools system and keep it one of the best in the country, I vote YES to Meals Tax. The tax is collected by most of the local jurisdictions then why not we. If we go out in DC we pay the meals tax that support their tax base, then why not we pay for something that gets back to our community.

    1. Other reasons to vote no: 1) absolutely no legal requirement funds from meals tax must be spent on public schools. 2) even if (big "if") county spends these funds on schools, officials have provided no evidence that "spending" more money on public schools results in better educated children. 3) County officials continue to waste revenue (see homeless shelter debacle), why embolden them more by voluntarily inflicting another tax on ourselves? Rather shouldn't we demand that they spend our hard-earned dollars responsibly, before we give them more. 4) when is enough enough? How much of my money am I allowed to keep and how much should go to various taxes? 30%? 40%? 50%? 60%? Please let me know when I've paid my fair share.

    2. You are correct that most of the jurisdictions around us collect this added tax - which is why we get many more events being held/catered in Fairfax County. If we are going to "join the crowd" we take away that advantage and will lose business. And this is NOT just a Meals Tax - this is a FOOD tax - on every prepared food item you buy. Rotisserie chicken at Safeway; tuna salad at Giant; Wings at Costco - EVERYTHING. And as to the restaurants - servers make 2.73 an hour, relying on tips to make a living. When the tax goes up, the tips go down. Especially when diners see 10% added to their bill, many assume that is an auto tip, and either leave nothing additional or very little additional. BAD IDEA. VOTE NO ON THE MEALS TAX.

  7. "while FCPS costs are increasing, mainly due to enrollment increases."

    I want to know if all the enrollment increases are from legitimate American citizens, or law breaking illegals who should NOT be here in the first place! Politicians keep finding ways to spend spend spend,then tax tax tax. It is ok to spend if the budget increases are proper and legit. However, I will not be forking over extra taxes to pay for people who should not even be here! Budgets get overblown because of waste, and politicians pandering to certain groups. My brother is a Customs Border Patrol Officer in Texas, and he says it is a total mess down there.
    A few years ago, thousands of illegal children were let in the country and transported all over the country, many in Fairfax county. Since then, we have had an 'increase' in enrollment... coincidence? I think not.
    Get our politicians to manage our taxes properly and stop wasting it on people who shouldn't be here. THey represent US Citizens, not law breakers from other places! Until then, NO to the meals tax!!

    And FYI - for those who are too sensitive to accept the truth, and start throwing the race card at me - I am a 'minority' but I know HOW to think, and not brainwashed on WHAT to think. There is nothing racist about wanting proper management in our immigration system - like my family coming here LEGALLY. American citizens - no matter what color - should come first for our politicians!

    1. AMEN! I am a parent with kids in the school system and I am sure that MANY of these folks ARE NOT FREAKING LEGAL! We are training a generation of TAKERS!

  8. The first 3% of the money collected will go to the restaurants to defray the expenses of administering a meals tax, leaving 27% for the County and 70% to the school system.

    As mentioned previously, restaurants have one of the highest turnover rates of any business and high financial risk.

    A more logical move would be to adjust the Hotel Tax which is 6% in Fairfax County, lower than all adjacent jurisdictions - Falls Church City is 7%, Arlington is 7.25%, Loudun is 7% and its 14.5% in DC. A small increase is that rate would hardly drive visitors to our neighbors and does not affect residents. Obviously. too reasonable an approach for our local officials to pursue.
    We live in one of the wealthiest counties in the country and Fairfax County is facing a multi million dollar deficit. Does anyone truly believe that this situation will be solved by a meals tax?

    1. As our federal government has demonstrated we don't have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem. If we reward our government officials who keep on spending irresponsibly with more of our hard-earned money via a meals tax, we will only get more of the same--irresponsible spending. I am 100% certain that governments could take all of our earnings and would still run a deficit, or need to float more bonds, within a mere handful of years. If you believe that you do not pay enough in taxes, all jurisdictions will gladly accept contributions.

    2. Get our "lazy A$$ code enforcers" who are dictated by the Gross one, to enforce the code and eliminate not only the illegal children in our school system including all of those brought in from other jurisdictions, including the MD license tag people, on a daily basis. (Who knows where they actually live) They arrive very early, board the buses and get picked up in the afternoon or sleep over for 4 nights. It's a scam that keeps on happening because NO-ONE has the fortitude to enforce any of the laws that the Gross one ignores. She is so afraid of losing her ignorant base and developers who are draining us dry of money and community spirit.
      Gross alone should pay for the money needed to keep our schools solvent.