County Paid Propaganda? Citizens Want Answers!

meals_taxby James A. Bacon

Henrico County has launched a website to tout a 4% meals tax proposal that voters will accept or reject in a referendum this fall. With slick graphics and professionally produced video, Henrico County Meals Tax Facts, created by the West Cary Group ad agency, cost $20,250, reports the Times-Dispatch today.

The website contends that the tax will raise $18 million yearly, of which 40% will be paid by non-Henrico residents. In the video County Manager John Vithoulkas and School Superintendent Pat Russo describe the fiscal challenges facing the county and the spending reductions already made.  “If the meals tax fails,” says Vithoulkas, “the reality is then two choices: We are looking at a 6-cent real estate tax increase or service level deductions.”

Well, that’s one side of the story…

The website bears the county seal of Henrico, a Henrico County government post office address, and a Henrico County email address. “Henrico County staff is available to meet with your group or organization about the meals tax referendum,” states the contact page.

The website and the Times-Dispatch article leave unanswered one very important question: Did Henrico County also pay for the website production? It appears that it did. Typically, if an outside group had paid for it, that group would identify itself. But no such group is noted.

As a Henrico resident opposed to the meals tax, I have a big problem with the county spending tax dollars to persuade citizens to raise taxes on themselves. It’s fine for the County Supervisors who approved the referendum to get out front and make the case to the public — on their own dime. It’s fine for pro-tax advocates to tap  business groups, teachers unions or other private interests to raise the money to make their case. It’s even fine for Vithoulkas and Russo to attend community events and present their analysis. But I have a very big problem with county governments using tax dollars to propagandize for higher taxes.

If that is what, in fact, occurred, it is outrageous. It might even be illegal. Perhaps Bacon’s Rebellion readers know if such an expenditure violates state statutes. (If doesn’t, it should.)

Before going thermonuclear, however, I await a response from county officials as to who paid for the website. I sent an email Saturday and will follow up with a telephone call tomorrow. I will keep readers posted.

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6 responses to “County Paid Propaganda? Citizens Want Answers!”

  1. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    Such government advertizing has over the past few years been growing by leaps and bounds. Like much else going on these days, it’s outrageous.

  2. The Taxpayer south of the James( smells something similar emanating from the bowels of the Chesterfield County government and School System cesspool.

    “That’s why you can expect a big information push leading up to November 5. You may find informational flyers in your utility bills, posters in businesses with frequently asked questions, a web page, and even a Facebook post to learn more about the referendum. ”

    There are plenty of ‘useful idiots’ that will gladly push this ‘stuff’ to win at all cost and never discuss how insidious government generated propaganda is… They just want to still be revelant and be one of the ‘cool kids’ from middle school. But alas it will wear on their schools like a heavy chain and their spirits darken never knowing how freedom and liberty tasted in today’s America…

    Vote NO in NOvember for this meals tax shenanigans and when the cowards increase your property tax to increase the ‘enterprise’ of government… Vote them out and replace them with citizens that understand that you can spend what is left of your paycheck to meet your needs than any government bureaucrat…

    BTW the meals tax south of the James is about unfunded liabilities from unsustainable promises made to pension funds and healthcare. Fix the $645 + million promise gap first, tell the young employees how their ‘retirement’ will really be, put your checkbook online, and then discuss the school facility ‘needs’ in a 21st century society that has little need for traditional school structures … The same old way gets tiring in the land of the interweaves…

  3. larryg Avatar

    maybe check with McDonald or Cucinelli to see how they feel about this “shady” deal…eh?

    we had a similar issue a few years back on a referenda for transportation projects and a new school… oh .. and a VRE station….

    and the BOS talked about being worried that the anti-tax people would propagandize the issue and wanted to make sure they got their side of it out also.

    ultimately they decided on a fact sheet … not a fancy video but 20K sounds pretty cheap for consultant help these days. I think one fact-sheet mailing from the country to citizens would eat that much…

    I think it’s legitimate for the BOS – if they agree unanimously or even in the majority to make a decision like this.

    at the end of the day in the internet age – the citizens will easily be able to get their word out also.

    I also think that Henrico if not mistaken is one of the few countries to have a AAA rating. That says a lot about being fiscally responsible in this age of Detroit….

    there used to be a fellow named Hydra that frequented these pages (hope he is well) that opined that folks should vote on which services they want and make budget decisions that way.

    We’ve had survey’s in our county were the questions were worded to say – if we had to do without something in order to balance the budget, what should we do without?

    invariably people won’t pick stuff like schools or parks or libraries but instead stuff like “waste and abuse”….

    I’m too far away to know how citizens feel about the Henrico BOS. Are they liked or hated or in between? On a scale of 1-10 where 1 is liberal tax/spend and 10 is rock-ribbed, penny-pinching conservative – where do they fall?

  4. Breckinridge Avatar

    I’m expecting no complaints from the Cuccinelli forces, as having this issue on the ballot will likely boost the turnout among the anti-tax minded voters of the county — a swing county these days. I would have thought that issue had a better chance in the heavy 2012 turnout, but we’ll see. Henrico has had an amazingly stable Board for the last couple of decades, and it is perceived as a well-run county. It is not perceived as penny pinching at all, but it is perceived as having spent money well on schools and services. The board’s support for this increases the chances of passage.

    If I lived in the county, and if I could be persuaded that the extra money really would be used to reduce pressure on the real estate tax, I might vote yes. It’s true a lot of it would be paid by people from outside the county. The high meals tax in the city has hardly emptied out the restaurants. But if you give a mouse a cookie he asks for a glass of milk and if you give a government a new revenue stream, they start buying cookies for mice.

  5. larryg Avatar

    I “get” the idea that the county should live within it’s current revenue stream.

    It cannot keep increasing it’s taxes every time it has things it wants – and does so by poaching county citizens money.

    but I also think comparing the county to other countries in terms of revenues, spending and service – as well as credit rating would be fair.

    I have no idea how many counties have a meals tax but I’d not be surprised that it was a good number … and…

    IF the choice was between property tax and meals tax… I think the latter would be felt less than the former…

    chesterfieldtaxpayer – up thread implicates schools as the villain and if Henrico and Chesterfield are like a lot of suburban counties – that’s about 70% of their spending… and the usual reason that increased spending is sought.

    at some point – schools have to also live within their means.

    we want kids to have as much opportunity as possible in their education but at the same time- at some point – there has to be a line drawn between what the core subjects are – and legitimate costs for taxpayers and what things are optional and parental responsibility.

    but therein lies the bugaboo to chesterfieldtaxpayer… the folks who are parents and have their kids in school – also vote and they don’t want the schools cut.

    I suppose there are some tea party types that are also parents.. and that viewpoint could be interesting….

  6. larryg Avatar

    Okay… so I looked at the video and website and I’m trying think how they could say any less why keeping the facts …

    this did not strike me as a “cheerleading” type video… it DOES have a particular view about budget priorities but the fact that they have cut quite a few positions and millions of dollars from the budget does not sound like they are on a tax&spend binge either.

    so.. the Auditor of Public Accounts DOES provide the data that compares counties spending on various functions such as schools, administration, public facilities , plus local taxes:

    It’s an excel spreadsheet and Exhibit B2 County shows the jurisdictions that have meals taxes..

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