More Pandering for the Meals Tax

Vote for the meals tax -- or you'll wreck this child's future.
Vote for the meals tax — or you’ll wreck this child’s future.

by James A. Bacon

The Times-Dispatch reports more puke-inducing rhetoric from the pro-meals tax forces in Henrico County. This time, the intelligence-insulting blather comes from Yes 4 Henrico’s Kids, a group that has solicited $145,000 from business groups to tout the tax.

“I think we’re going to win” the referendum in November, said Laura Lafayette, CEO of the Richmond Association of Realtors. “I think the kids in Henrico are going to win.”

The it’s-all-for-the-kids cynicism is nauseating. Of the vast sum the group has raised to promote the tax, $57,500 comes from Lafayette’s group, another $17,500 from the National Association of Realtors, and $16,666 more from Highw00ds-Markel LLC and Highwoods Realty Limited Partnership — all of which stand to benefit from deflecting an increase in the property tax to the general citizenry. Oh, yes, it’s all for the kids — but we’ll stick it to the kids’ parents, who will pay the meals tax.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with people pursuing their raw self interest in the political arena, although the practice does become nauseating when people cloak that self interest with puffery about the sweet little children. What’s less forgivable is the fraudulent way in which tax advocates have framed the debate: as a false choice between enacting a meals tax to raise $18 million, hiking the real estate property-tax rate by six cents on the dollar, or running the Henrico County Public Schools budget through the wood chipper.

When I describe the choice as “fraudulent,” I use it as a milder term for “dirty, low-down lying.”

The choice is not between raising taxes and cutting the school budget, it’s between raising taxes and cutting spending across the entire county budget, which is split roughly in half between schools and general governmental expenditures. If it chose, the Board of Supervisors could elect to absorb the entire sum from general government expenditures and transfer $18 million to schools.

Here’s what Yes 4 Henrico’s Kids is saying when it rules out the option of general governmental expenditure savings:

  • Don’t charge insurance companies for ambulance services, a measure that could save $7 million.
  • Don’t pursue smart-cities strategies that could achieve efficiency gains in government utilities and services.
  • Don’t use smart-growth strategies to foster development that pays for itself.
  • Don’t privatize operation or ownership of the Henrico County golf course.
  • Don’t pare extravagances like county-produced programming for the public access channel.

The Yes 4 Henrico Kids website also never mentions how the technological tsunami of online and computerized learning can be harnessed to get more bang for the buck in Henrico’s school system. The website is backed by a group of people who want to raise taxes in order to protect the status quo. They don’t want to change a thing … except your taxes. (Just don’t touch their’s). They, like the board of supervisors, lack the vision to see how Henrico might transform itself into a model for 21st-century governance.

Anyone who wants to see Henrico thrive should vote down the meals tax and demand that its supervisors and county administrators seek out best practices from around the world to create a more efficient, cost-effective and responsive government.

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17 responses to “More Pandering for the Meals Tax”

  1. Breckinridge Avatar

    I can always tell who is losing an election because they turn nasty in their rhetoric, which you just did, Jim. Puke-inducing? Blather? Never let them see you sweat. They have you on the run.

    This is a fair election. The pro side has wealthy special interests behind it. The Tea Party and Americans for Prosperity are off hunting snarks, wasting their time and money on Big Things when the real way to make any change is at the local, grass roots level. They are beating their heads against a brick wall on Obamacare, and here they could tip the balance. But there’s no big bucks for consulting fees in local referenda. The other side, the side you oppose, is showing up ready for the game.

    I’ve got no beef with extra taxes on prepared meals in Henrico. I seldom eat there and this will be one reason not to change!

  2. DJRippert Avatar

    Bacon is right about the “dear little children” argument. It is bunk. How many states have insisted that funds raised by lottos or gambling will be used for education? As far as I know, all of them. However, they never guarantee that spending per pupil will go up. The slippery eels send the lotto money to the schools but then reduce the existing non-lotto funding for the schools by more than the lotto proceeds.

  3. Les Schreiber Avatar
    Les Schreiber

    As a retired teacher ,I can tell you when a politician says “Its for the children” the money will be wasted on some educrat clap-trap.

    1. I’ve been informed that Jack Dale, former Fairfax County school superintendent, spent $50 K last year with the Disney Company on staff motivation. As a shareholder, I like it, but as a resident of the county, I think it’s outrageous. So far, our new superintendent, Karen Garza, seems to being thinking of some staff and consultant cuts.

  4. Breckinridge Avatar

    Why you cynics! Don’t you believe all that lottery money goes to education? Would that many politicians lie that long about that much?

    Actually I remember well the legislative debate and then the plebiscite (wherein I voted NO because a lottery is just a tax on the mathematically challenged.) People voted for it because they wanted to play. The argument it was for the “dear little children” came later and is obviously fraudulent. Money is fungible. But there was a vote, and this time there is a vote, and the people can blame themselves one way or the other.

    1. DJRippert Avatar

      I think all gambling should be legal. Why? I like to gamble. Do I win or lose? Of course I lose. Anybody who plays casino games long enough is going to lose. I bet the minimum and consider the losses a cost of entertainment.

      But I never, never ever, think I am helping the children by gambling.

    2. billsblots Avatar

      “a lottery is just a tax on the mathematically challenged”

      That is so wrong and illogical. You are coerced by all the law enforcement power of government to pay tax or go to jail.

      Buying lottery tickets is an individual choice, just like choosing to buy health insurance or not. Oh, wait.

  5. hahahahahah… Bacon is going off message here.. panic is in the air!

    “for the children” – total bunk – totally agree!!!

    re: ” Oh, yes, it’s all for the kids — but we’ll stick it to the kids’ parents, who will pay the meals tax.”

    ask the average parent if paying a few extra cents for a burger will get his kid even more free goodies in school.. if that is a good idea?

    really? what freaking planet are people on?

    it’s “not” for the “kids” – it’s for the parents!


    hey! this IS the AMERICAN WAY! Even Tea Party Parents will see the “benefits” of the meal tax.

    the problem with most wealthy counties is

    that “parents” have never seen a school program they did not like.

    the more and better that schools are – the better it is for parents wanting their kids to have …… _every_ opportunity!

    Mind you – not very many of those parents really and truly want a core-academic only school system. Nope… they want a “quality” education for their kids especially if it can be paid for with pennies on a burger!

    as I’ve heard before – screwed, blued and tattooed…

    so some “homework” for you – you’ll have to “google” the phrase above to see where it came from…

    happy googling!

    1. HarrisJordan Avatar

      Couple points of note:

      1. Henrico County residents’ monthly tax burden is around $154.32. Of the most populated 15 localities, Henrico residents pay about $15.00 cheaper than the next closest city/county. That’s $180 dollars/year for those of you doing the math at home.

      2. Henrico has one of the lowest real estate taxes in the state ($0.87/$100 assessed value). This is crucial to continue to be attractive to business looking to relocate and the one issue we can all agree on is the necessity to create jobs. Henrico officials have also never raised the real estate tax rate since 1978 but have reduced it 6 times in that span.

      3. Henrico’s government has consistently been recognized as one of the top local governments in the country and is one of only 34 localities (out of more than 3,000) in the country with a AAA bond rating. That’s higher than the United States of America.

      4. Think the tax isn’t needed? This year’s capital budget for the county (used to fund infrastructure projects) is less than it was in 1962.

      5. In the state of Virginia, 209 localities have a meals tax and 10 of the largest 15 localities have a meals tax. Only 10 localities have no meals tax, either countywide or within a town. Henrico and Chesterfield are the only localities with over 200,000 residents.

      6. Also, 40% of the tax would be paid by non-Henrico residents. That means that Henrico residents would equate to a little less than $11 million. Compare this to the possible real estate tax increase county officials have alluded to and you can clearly see there is $7 million the citizens of Henrico are saving by voting for the meals tax. The only other option is to cut services like schools and public safety in order to keep up. Let’s just be glad we have not reached this level yet:

      7. Henrico officials have not laid off a single worker but have still managed to get rid of over 600 positions. Keep in mind that while many localities were cutting services during the recession, Henrico kept going strong. Did they spoil us? Maybe. But now when they need to money, we are saying no? This is clearly the best option for the county moving forward to continue giving us the great services we’ve come to know and expect from them.

      By the way, ALL this information can be found online with a little research.

      1. HarrisJordan makes a pretty powerful case. What say the anti-meals-tax folks?

      2. HarrisJordan, I acknowledge all the points you make (except maybe the last one, which I’m not sure about). By traditional measures, Henrico is a well-run county. And it faces major fiscal challenges. I have acknowledged all that in previous posts.

        But Henrico is also coasting on past performance. It is not exactly what you’d call a hotbed of innovation. There is a paradigm shift occurring in local governance around the world — smart cities, smart growth, MOOCs — and Henrico seems to be oblivious. We need to start now on making long-term reforms. Pass the meals tax, and you take the heat off county leaders. They’ll move back into their comfort zone, and nothing will change.

        1. Jim – in terms of governance – don’t you think you are moving the goalposts here?

          Over and Over we hear about all the things that govt does badly, high taxes, poor services, skullduggery, waste, etc and here is an example of a well-run govt but the Conservatives are STILL not happy.

          I’m starting to think you guys are never going to be happy.

          The Tax rate in Henrico is LOWER than my county and my county is not responsible for it’s own roads AND it already has a meals tax AND it does not have a AAA rating.

          geeze Jim.. if you were force to list the 3 best run counties in Va, would you rule out Henrico from that list?

          yes the “do it for the kids” tactic is bogus.. totally agree

          but the arguments used against Henrico also seem to be flabby.

          “innovation”, “smart growth”, golf courses? geeze

          1. Am I moving the goalposts?


            I think Henrico has the potential to be one of the best-run municipalities in the country, indeed, possibly the world. When you have a AAA bond rating, low taxes, good schools and a livable community. That’s a good start. Arguably, that puts us in the Top 5%. I take that as a base-line. Where do we go next? We need to go from good to great. I want us to be the Top 1%… ultimately, the Top 0.1%. Our elected officials and civic leaders are not setting that same standard. They are satisfied with the status quo. I’m not.

          2. well I guess I can’t really fault you for wanting… near perfection?


  6. reed fawell III Avatar
    reed fawell III

    Hidden agendas riding in disguise, elaborate schemes of disinformation and spin, false narratives to gain advantage, outright lies, scare tactics and slurs.

    Such strategies and tactics are as old as politics. They reach new heights of subtlety, and lows of viciousness, in all vibrant democracies. This fact of human nature became clear even before George Washington stepped away from the Presidency. In those times, the infancy of the Republic, the principal actors orchestrating the mudslingers’ campaigns of duplicity (whether acting publicly or from the shadows) included luminaries of the times, Jefferson, Hamilton, Burr and Adams to name but a few. So its the underside of passion, conviction, and self-interests in vivid action. Human nature at work in all of us, that does not make it right. It’s dead wrong.

    If folks who see through the dirty smog fail to step up to the plate and call this toxic waste by its proper name, then it will rule the day by default. Far too often today people don’t step up, but go along. It’s a chronic problem. One that overtime can overwhelm us, and lead us to our ruination.

    So, whatever its source, I say gore the dirty Ox. Bravo Jim Bacon!

    1. HarrisJordan Avatar


      I believe you have effectively called out each one of our founding fathers for “orchestrating the mudslingers’ campaigns of duplicity.” Surely you must have some sort of evidence for making sure a broad claim? Also, I believe you’ve mistaken a 4% tax on your dinner (which equates to $4.00 on a $100 check) with eternal damnation. I don’t think such a tiny tax should be reason to start talking about the country’s “ruination.”

      Finally, you cannot compare the sins of the federal government to that of the Henrico government. It’s like comparing apples to oranges. The federal government is in charge of a population of more than 300,000,000 people while Henrico county has 300,000. Thats 0.1% of the nationwide population. If you want to bring history into the debate then please see my post above. Henrico’s government has been one of the most fiscally conservative local government in the country and should be treated as such. The way you speak its like you are treating a 38 year old as if he were 8. While cities like Detroit are filing bankruptcy, Henrico has risen above and kept its services without laying off a single employee…how many other localities can say that? hint hint: not Chesterfield or the City of Richmond.

      I believe many people see the three dreaded letters, T-A-X, and they automatically run screaming like their hair is on fire. What the residents of Henrico County must realize is that their government is simply out of options at this point. They held off as long as possible, but now they are asking for our help. The county has always had top flight police and schools and personally I would like to continue this tradition of excellence that has been set by previous administrations in Henrico.

  7. jesus- Reed… I’m having trouble with the point… can you distill down to the essence?


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