Fairfax’s Bulova: No meals tax vote likely before 2016 election

The question of whether Fairfax County should institute a meals tax in its 3,000 restaurants isn’t likely to be put to voters before the November 2016 election, Board of Supervisors Chairman Sharon Bulova said Monday.

After a task force laid out the pros and cons for supervisors of seeking as much as $88 million in extra revenue through a meals tax referendum, there doesn’t appear to be much support for moving forward, Bulova (D) said in an interview. The money would help fund schools, libraries and other services.

“If someone introduced a motion on the board to put out a referendum this year, I would vote no, and I believe that a majority of my colleagues would join me in voting no,” Bulova said.

The politically volatile issue drew intense opposition from restaurants, hotels and other business groups, which Bulova said “came out with guns blazing” almost immediately after she formed a 42-member task force last month to consider the question.

Such opposition made it almost certain that a ballot initiative would be defeated this year, and it showed that county officials would have to negotiate with those industries before pursuing the idea, she said.

The earliest reasonable time for a meals tax ballot question would be Election Day 2016, Bulova said, noting that there are no guarantees that would happen since the county board’s membership can change before then.

“This current board cannot obligate a future board,” she said, adding that any proposal would need broad support from industry groups and county voters.

Advocates for the new tax agreed that a more deliberate approach is necessary, noting that the county is unlikely to want to revisit the issue if voters reject a ballot proposal.

“I think we know enough about the history of the meals tax in Fairfax to realize that if and when you put it up and it fails, that’s bad,” said Steven Greenburg, president of the Fairfax Federation of Teachers, referring to the fact that it has taken 22 years for county officials to consider a meals tax after it was rejected in 1992.

Antonio covers government, politics and other regional issues in Fairfax County. He worked in Los Angeles, New York and Chicago before joining the Post in September of 2013.
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