One bill backing Richmond school referendum dies in House subcommittee

RICHMOND, Va.  – The House bill backing the school facilities referendum passed by voters in November died in subcomittee Wednesday. House Bill 1409, introduced by Delegate Jeffrey M. Bourne (D-71st), would have allowed the mayor to raise taxes as part of his plan to modernize outdated Richmond school facilities.

Another version introduced by Sen. Glen H. Sturtevant (R – District 10) made it out of the Local Government committee on Tuesday, with a unanimous vote.

The ballot referendum was introduced by The Richmond Crusade for Voters, and Paul Goldman is considered the chief architect. The referendum requires Richmond City Mayor Levar Stoney to present to the city council not later than Jan. 1, 2019, a fully funded plan to modernize the city’s K-12 educational infrastructure consistent with national standards or inform city council that such a plan is not feasible.

The referendum prohibited basing the fully funded plan on the passage of new or increased taxes for that purpose.

Sturtevant’s bill does not allow the mayor to raise taxes. Though Bourne previously said he didn’t think all options should be taken off the table, he did say to CBS 6 that as a co-patron, he would support Sturtevant’s bill if it passes the Senate.

Proposed meals tax increase

Mayor Stoney is currently working with City Council to pass his proposed meals tax plan.

The plan would increase the current meal tax from 6 to 7.5 percent. The current combined state sales and local meals tax is 11.3 percent; that number would increase to 12.8 percent. It would be the difference of tax bringing a $60 check to $67.68 versus $66.78 – or 90 cents difference.

Stoney’s plan estimates the tax would generate around $9 million a year, which would allow the city to expand its debt capacity to borrow up to $150 million to fund new school construction.

“You can’t do that by finding efficiencies, you do that by having a sustainable revenue source, and that’s what we are trying to do with an increase of 1.5 cents on the dollar,” Stoney said.

Restaurateurs and residents say the mayor’s plan falls short of funding the needed renovations citywide and passes the school building bill to customers.

The proposed school facility plan passed by the school board costs $224 million. That includes building new schools for E.S.H. Greene Elementary, Elkhardt-Thompson Middle, George Wythe High, George Mason Elementary, and the new Woodville Elementary.

The mayor explained the difference between the school board total and his proposed plan.

“The $150 million is a start, and a good start, but we understand there are many, many needs,” he said.  “These are to meet the emergency and critical needs of our schools.”

The mayor has said there is “no individual industry above considering” but reducing budget inefficiencies or finding other revenues would be supplemental, not replacements for the money needed to finance immediate construction.

Read more about the meals tax here.