Home 2016 elections Who’s Behind the “Stop the Food Tax” Organization in Fairfax County?

Who’s Behind the “Stop the Food Tax” Organization in Fairfax County?


Fairfax County residents will have a referendum on their ballot this November regarding a 4% tax on prepared foods.  70% of the revenue from the tax would pay for schools, and 30% for county services such as libraries and fire stations.

It’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring much-needed support to our public schools, which have been struggling under budget constraints that lead to higher class sizes, cuts in extracurricular programs and the loss of teachers who can earn $15,000 more in neighboring districts.  This affects county residents whether or not they have children in the schools, since our school system is the main factor that leads to our high property values and excellent quality of life in Fairfax County.

Counties in Virginia don’t have a lot of options for raising revenue.  Most of it comes from property taxes, putting the bulk of the burden on homeowners. But if approved by vote, the citizens of Fairfax can diversify the revenue stream and reduce the reliance on housing taxes.

Lacking a mobilizing force on the top of the ticket, Republicans have galvanized around this ballot issue in the hopes that it would unify both wings of the party.  After all, being reflexively anti-tax is something they can all agree upon.

The organization “Fairfax Families Against the Food Tax” doesn’t seem to include very many families, though.  In fact, if you look at their campaign finance report, filed for the period ending August 31, 100% of their funding comes from restaurants and others in the foodservice industry.  Most notable: $10,000 from Great American Restaurants (includes Sweetwater, Coastal Flats and others), and $5,000 each from Glory Days and Clyde’s.

I might be a political employee in my day job, but before that, my career was in the food service industry. I worked for ten years at grocery stores and restaurants such as Whole Foods and Glory Days.  I’m a product of Fairfax County Public Schools, husband of a FCPS teacher, and I have a child in the school system.

My Fairfax County Supervisor Pat Herrity, a recipient of over $64,000 in donations from the restaurant industry, is an outspoken opponent of the meals tax.  Recently on the Kojo Nnamdi show, he pretended that he cared about restaurant workers and the poor.  Well, I’ve been poor and a restaurant worker, and I would always make sure I could afford it whenever I decided to buy prepared foods.  And nobody has ever seen someone in the town of Vienna or City of Falls Church abandon their localities just to buy dinner in Fairfax because of the absence of a food tax.

So I’d like to shine a little light on the opposition.

First of all, their slogan “stop the food tax” (as opposed to the “meals tax”) is misleading because the tax only applies to prepared foods.  They’re hoping, however, that people who don’t read too much into it would believe it’s a tax on all foods.

Secondly: Republicans’ newfound concern for the poor and for restaurant workers is nothing but a cynical ploy to use them as political props for their anti-tax crusade.  The reality is that low-income families would be helped the most by the revenue through improvements to the county schools and services that we rely on.  Also, restaurants will not lose business and servers’ tips would actually increase when the percentage tip is based on the total bill.

Third:  Let’s be clear about who “Fairfax Families Against the Food Tax” really is.  On their website, they describe themselves as “a coalition of local restaurants, businesses, and organizations.” On the list of members, who gets top billing?  That’s right — Americans for Prosperity, the Koch Brothers front group.  Not listed is the local Fairfax County Republican Committee, even though they are some of the top organizers for this effort.

What’s the point of bringing all this up?  Simple: to let Fairfax County voters know what we’re up against, and hopefully to mobilize in support of the meals tax, which I will gladly pay in order to keep our schools world-class.  We know the opposition is really gearing up.  Herrity is hosting a reception late this month for $250 to $25,000 per person.  They’ve made it clear that there are no limits on contributions to a referendum committee.  Late expenditures will translate to an onslaught of deceptive mailers, phone calls, signs and people on the ground at the polls and at your door.

I recommend that voters join the Invest in Fairfax movement, volunteer and educate their neighbors about this important initiative and vote YES on the meals tax referendum.  Sign up to canvass or spend some time at your local polling place.  Fairfax is a great place to live because we maintain one of the best school systems around.  Let’s work to keep it that way.

  • Preston

    I understand the need for taxation, but wouldn’t moving away from property taxes for a meals tax be highly regressive?

    • ichrysso

      It’s less regressive than a property tax. Everyone has the ability to decide if they are eating prepared foods or preparing themselves. Home size, while a choice, is often dictated by how big your family is and how much stuff you own.

      • Preston

        I agree with your assessment, but it still leads me to the opposite conclusion. Family size isn’t directly related to income, but home ownership is–the poor are more likely to rent while the affluent are more likely to own. I think the property tax also covers vehicles, where the affluent are more likely to own more expensive and multiple cars. On the flip side, people that buy pre-made meals to eat are also more likely to be poor because of the time investment necessary to cooking and the costs of cooking (not just the raw ingredients that often go to waste, but kitchenware itself). Homemade food is a privilege not everyone has.

        • ichrysso

          It really doesn’t matter. Renters end up paying the property tax anyway – if the county raises property taxes, it is passed on to the renter, buried in higher rent costs.

          I have not seen the studies on where poor people are more busy than other people and why they have less time to prepare their own meals. In fact, I have seen many more arguments that argue the opposite – that people with more money can afford to go out whereas people who don’t have money cannot.

          Based on all that, it still seems to me that the meals tax is less regressive, if you choose to “opt out” by making your own meals.

  • Dave Webster

    Tips would increase because the extra taxes result in a larger bill? Ha!

    • ichrysso

      Up to you, but you are not expected to pay tip on the tax potion of the bill.

  • ichrysso

    Maybe the author can help me understand, since my questions to DTR have not been acknowledged, never mind answered. How much property tax relief does the 30% apportionment mean to homeowners? Is it $.05 per $100? Less or more? This information is not included with the referendum, I can’t find it anywhere and yet, there it is on the ballot question – an apportionment to reduce our property taxes. Here is the link with the actual language: http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/mealstax/

    • Bryan Graham

      The value of a penny on the Fairfax County Real Estate Tax Rate is $23.3 million in FY 2017. So with a little bit of math, you shouldn’t expect more than a cent of relief if a 4% meals tax rate is passed (the referendum doesn’t actually set the meals tax rate, that would be decided next year).

      • ichrysso

        Thanks, Bryan! I am still wondering why this information is not included with the referendum packet e.g. 1% meal tax will roughly equal $0.0025 in property tax relief; 4% meal tax will roughly equal $0.01 in property tax relief. Still, your reply is considerate and most appreciated.

  • Dan Fleischmann

    We should tax soda