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Richmond places that don’t have to charge the meals tax — and why

Richmond places that don’t have to charge the meals tax — and why
Posted at 12:55 AM, May 07, 2015
and last updated 2015-05-07 00:55:28-04

RICHMOND, Va. -- From the dicing to the frying, to the baking of the doughnuts, there's plenty to choose from amid Richmond’s food scene.

But there's one aspect of eating in Richmond that has few restaurant owners, and for that matter customers, laughing.

That would be the meals tax, which at six percent is the highest in the nation, among the country’s 50 largest cities -- according to a think tank’s research.

"You’re actually encouraging city residents to go out of the city,” said Jake Crocker, owner of three restaurants, including FW Sullivans in the fan.

But that doesn’t have Crocker the most steamed. No, rather it's the fact there are dining spots in Richmond where the meal tax isn’t charged, which makes his food seem expensive by comparison.

"It is frustrating," he said.

And you may be surprised who is getting some of the cheapest sandwiches in the city. It's the men and women who work inside the state Capitol.

joes story

Next to the statue of Thomas Jefferson, and under a quote about justice, is Meriwhethers; a cafe that is frequented by politicians, state workers and tourists.

Of the $153,000 plus dollars in meals they sold last year, not one receipt charged a meals tax.

Capital Square is a meals tax-free zone.

In 1969 the attorney general ruled the land inside these gates are "not a part of the city of Richmond,” and therefore not subject to its rules.

"The meals tax issue is huge because there is so much revenue being left on the table,” said Kim Gray, a Richmond School Board Member.

Gray knows every penny counts; she represents a school system constantly fighting for more money to fix schools. For her it’s ironic the Capitol Café doesn’t pay. After all she says it’s the mandates passed within that building that – in part --leaves the city in debt.

"Perhaps our state lawmakers could come up with a formula to compensate us for that,” she said

This isn’t the only place free of the meals tax. State venues get away with it too. Virginia Commonwealth University doesn’t have to charge taxes to students on meal plans, because state buildings don’t have to pay property taxes.

capitol square

Gray estimated that’s around $36 million dollars lost, every year. Money she said could be used to fix schools that look like this, or give veteran police officers a decent raise.

"It insults us really,” said Crocker.

He said the state not paying its fair share means places like his have to keep picking up the slack.

He said that hurt the movement to convince the city to repeal or even the lower the tax, and keep lunch and dinners prices high for customers -- a reason why Jakes says  everyone should care.

"If we're going to have to pay this tax why shouldn't they have to?” he asked.

CBS 6 reached out to state officials to discuss why they don't charge the tax. They declined our request.