- - Tuesday, October 25, 2016

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

It’s always for the kids. Every time a local government wants more money from taxpayers, the taxpayers are told that it’s not for lavish salaries or programs of limited value, but “for the kids.” It’s for schools, teachers, first-aid kits, fire extinguishers and stuff like that. The old joke, and sometimes it’s not a joke, is that when the taxpayers demand cuts in the budget the mayor threatens to “close the orphanage.” Sometimes a new tax actually is “for the kids,” but most of the time it’s an empty sentiment. Everybody loves kids, especially when they can be used to front for tax increases.

Fairfax County is always on the scout for more revenue and new ways to pick the pockets of county residents and anyone who passes through. They have raised property taxes this year, and now want voters to approve what they describe as a “meals tax” that would bring in $100 million a year. They argue that it’s a tax that many commuters will pay if they visit a Fairfax County restaurant. They think their friends at The Washington Post will like it because they always like a new tax, and besides, “Most diners scarcely notice the tax added to their dinner bill.”

It turns out, of course, that if the tax is approved there’s no assurance the $100 million will be applied to improving education or anything else “for the kids.” Money, as any accountant could tell you, is “fungible,” which sounds like something stinky, like expensive cheese, but all it means is that the revenue can go anywhere. What the meals tax really is, is a tax of 4 percent that will be added to an existing tax of 6 percent on all processed food sold in the county, for any reason, to anyone, by restaurants, delicatessens, grocery stores, food trucks, concessionaires at sporting events, pizzas delivered and the like. What it means is that anybody who eats anything but raw broccoli or maybe a carrot will be hit for 10 percent on top of everything else the county already collects.

What’s more, it turns out that the scheme isn’t a new one. The taxers tried this once before, but the voters turned it down because they weren’t persuaded that the money was really “for the kids,” and the revenue might not be needed, anyway. The taxers are back again, and fearing the same outcome, are lobbying in Richmond to change the law so the voters don’t get a final veto, and the tax can be imposed even if the voters say no.

They may or may not get their way in Richmond, but in the meantime, Fairfax County voters should do what they did last time, tell the taxers at the ballot box to keep their hands off their dinner plates and out of their pockets. Voters can do that by voting no to the meals tax, which will be question #7 way down at the bottom of the ballot.

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