Influential interest groups in the region took sides Wednesday on Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s plan to fund an overhaul of dilapidated city schools by raising the meals tax.
ChamberRVA, the Richmond Association of Realtors and the Home Building Association of Richmond publicly endorsed the plan. The Virginia Retail Federation, the Retail Merchants Association and the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging and Travel Association stated their opposition to it.
If approved, it would increase the tax from 6 percent to 7.5 percent, generating an estimated $9.1 million in annual revenue that, in turn, would allow the city to borrow $150 million over the next five years to fund construction projects for Richmond Public Schools.
“Paying 75 cents extra on a $50 meal to provide funding to replace or refurbish crumbling schools seems reasonable,” said ChamberRVA board Chairman Kym Grinnage in a statement issued Wednesday morning after the organization’s 78-person board voted Wednesday to support the mayor’s plan.
The organization represents about 900 businesses throughout the region. Improving schools is integral to attracting new companies and talent to the area, it said in a statement.
The Home Building Association of Richmond and its multifamily housing council, representing about 550 residential and multifamily developers, said in a statement Wednesday that it, too, backed the mayor’s plan.
The pair of endorsements followed one by the Richmond Association of Realtors, a regional organization with a membership of more than 4,000, tweeting its support for the tax plan Tuesday night.
“.@RARealtors endorses @LevarStoney’s proposal to raise funds for city schools via meals tax,” tweeted Laura Lafayette, CEO of the organization. “Strong schools = strong neighborhoods.”
Meanwhile, the Virginia Retail Federation said in a joint release with the Retail Merchants Association and the Virginia Restaurant, Lodging and Travel Association said the proposed increase would be detrimental to poor and working-class residents who depend on eating out on a budget.
“While the need for improvements within the Richmond city school system is apparent, levying another meals tax is not the answer,” the organizations said in a joint release. “Our collective position is to oppose this tax and any industry-specific tax.”
If approved by Richmond City Council, Stoney’s proposal would increase the city’s combined sales and meals tax rate from 11.3 percent to 12.8 percent.
During his State of the City address on Tuesday, Stoney acknowledged the increase may be unpopular among restaurateurs. But he downplayed the consternation with a touch of showmanship, arguing that the increase amounted to less than two pennies for each dollar spent.
“But we are talking about one and a half pennies. One and a half cents — for our children. Less than these two pennies I have in my hands,” Stoney said, holding the coins up. “Surely, our kids are worth that much.”
The mayor, council and Richmond School Board will discuss the plan at a joint meeting scheduled at 6 p.m. Monday at the Richmond Police Training Academy, 1202 W. Graham Road.