For some time now, proponents of the meals tax have touted its role in providing tax relief, specifically relief from property tax.
This is almost certainly because Fairfax County documentation on the proposed meals tax uses exactly this expression.
There are, however, at least two key things missing here:
- A commitment from the County that there will actually be tax relief
- Even a draft plan for what form this tax relief would take
Without these, “property tax relief” are little more than three words whose meaning has been the subject of much debate. It does, however, stand to reason that if the County had actually planned for there to be property tax relief, there would be explicit plans for doing so.
Absent the two “missing ingredients” noted above, there is nothing at all preventing an increase in property tax even if the meals tax were to pass. This bears repeating: even if the meals tax passes, property taxes can still increase.
It is clear that the meals tax initiative was poorly planned. The 70/30 split between the schools and County is laughably arbitrary. More precisely, the County, which has a well defined system for providing property tax relief to some of its most vulnerable residents-the elderly and disabled-has made no statement on what, if any, relief these persons might have from the meals tax. As a result, the meals tax, as laid out, is a regressive tax targeting these groups.
There is no doubt that Fairfax County provides a wide range of services. What is, however, doubtful is whether or not all expenditures are truly beneficial to County residents. Unless and until a comprehensive budget review is conducted (and this must, out of necessity, also include the schools) enacting the meals tax will result in nothing more than throwing money away. Sadly, there are many examples where it is clear money is not being spent wisely, and this, in and of itself, should be more than enough reason to vote NO on this tax until a much better planned version is articulated in the context of a responsibly drafted budget.