During the 2020 legislative session, the General Assembly passed House Bill 785 and Senate Bill 588. These bills which have been reconciled with each other, would, if signed into law by the Governor, authorize the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to enact a meals tax without being required to hold a referendum. Notably, the legislation requires a locality contemplating enacting a meals tax to wait six years from a referendum that was defeated prior to July 1, 2020 before seeking to enact a meals tax through vote of the Board of Supervisors without a referendum. Additionally, the legislation, if enacted, raises the limit on the tax rate from 4% to 6%.
In November 2016, Fairfax County voters resoundingly voted down a meals tax referendum. The vote was 56% against and 44% in favor. Under the pending legislation, if signed into law by the Governor, this means the Board of Supervisors could not enact a meals tax by their own vote without a referendum until, at earliest, November 2022. Since all members of the Board of Supervisors are up for re-election in November 2023, the subject of a meals tax would become an election issue, as it should be.
If the law is enacted, it does not impose an obligation on the part of the Board of Supervisors to enact a meals tax only by their own vote. They could still call for a referendum.
Over the past six years, the Board of Supervisors has raised our taxes by an astounding 30%. Since they are required by law to operate under a balanced budget every fiscal year, what this means is that with extremely low inflation in recent years, they have added close to 30% to our budget in new spending that wasn't previously in the budget six years ago. Continuing this trend is more than unconscionable. The 30% increase in taxation is well above (1) the rate of inflation and (2) the population growth of the County over the past 6 years. Adding a meals tax on top of all of this spending would be outrageous, particularly given the vote on the 2016 referendum.
If, presuming the Governor signs the legislation into law, our Board of Supervisors decides to seek to add a meals tax after November 2022, I suggest they do it in the form of a referendum appearing on the November 2023 ballot so that taxpaying voters can use the referendum as a basis for voting out of office Supervisors who are on public record supporting adding a meals tax to our already steep tax burden.
Finally, the Governor has until April 11, 2020 to take action on this legislation. If readers wish to share their views with the Governor, I suggest contacting him as soon as possible by filling out the form at this link: https://www.governor.virginia.gov/constituent-services/communicating-with-the-governors-office/
H. Jay Spiegel