By Arthur Purves
President, Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance (FCTA)
Originally published in The Bulletin (April-May-June 2016) on Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance website
A vote for the meals tax is a vote for unaffordable housing.
Since FY2000 the supervisors have been making housing unaffordable by raising real estate taxes faster than family income. While family income has increased maybe 40% and inflation 49%, residential real estate taxes increased 154%. Since FY2000 the average annual real estate tax increase has been 5.5%
A meals tax will not stop the real estate tax increases. The projected revenue increase from a new 4% meals tax is between $90M and $100M. The cost of compensation increases for the just-approved next year’s budget is $176M. That includes 3.5% raises for 34,000 county and school employees and the in- creased cost of their Cadillac health plans and pensions with retirement at 55 with 75% of salary.
So a meals tax will not even pay for one year’s compensation increases. After the meals tax, the 5.5% annual real estate taxes will resume.
Consider also that of the 24,000 Fairfax County Public Schools employees, only 9,000 are regular classroom teachers. The anti-phonics, anti-drill-in-arithmetic, boring social studies, atheistic school curriculum increases remedial and disciplinary costs, perhaps by hundreds of millions.
Of the county’s $1.9B of non-school spending, perhaps $400M is spent on public safety and social services dealing with family breakdown and poverty. Why are marriage and family collapsing? Perhaps President Obama said it best when he stated that the United States is no longer just a Christian nation.
Meanwhile, county leaders mislead the public about the budget. The school superintendent repeatedly states that since FY2008 the school budget has been cut by $500M and 2175 positions, when in fact the budget has increased by $490M (from $2144M to $2634M) and 1608 positions (from 22,261 to 23,869).
In his budget presentation, the county executive stated that since FY2009, the county budget has been cut by $300M and 700 positions, when in fact the county non-school budget has increased by $236M (from $1571M to $1807M in FY2016) and 234 positions (from 12,101 to 12,335 in FY2016).
The 2014 Meals Tax Task Force Report, which I voted against, states that the county needs more revenue due to growing population, enrollment, and student needs. In fact, since FY2000 both school and county spending have increased five times faster than enrollment and inflation. The report suggests that meals tax revenue will be used for unfunded needs in health, parks, libraries, the arts, and others. In fact the revenue will probably be used for raises and to prop up pensions and the Cadillac health plans.
To make Fairfax County affordable requires using bonuses or merit pay to attract and retain the best employees. It is too expensive to pay all employees the premiums required to retain the best employees. The county and schools need to switch to higher-deductible health plans and defined-contribution retirement plans, as the private sector has done. The school curriculum needs to be improved, which would probably only happen through liberal school choice and competition. Social service and public safety costs need to be reined in by restoring the ideal of marriage and child-rearing that was lost when the Supreme Court decisions of half a century ago made the Ten Commandments the ten suggestions.
But if the meals tax is approved this will embolden the supervisors to continue the 5.5% real estate tax increases, ignore the real solutions, and tax the middle class out of their homes.