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Meals Tax Again On The Table In Fairfax County, But Will Legislators Bite?

Restaurant owners in Fairfax County worry that a proposed five percent meals tax could take a bite out of the number of people eating out.
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Restaurant owners in Fairfax County worry that a proposed five percent meals tax could take a bite out of the number of people eating out.

In Virginia, members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors are about to consider a new meals tax to raise money for schools.

Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerry Hyland has tried to pass a meals tax seven times. But this time, the eighth, may just be the time his colleagues are willing to bite.

"Surrounding restaurants in Alexandria and Arlington County I believe as well have the meals tax supplement, and I don't think it discourages people to going there for restaurants. So I'm not sure it would have all that much impact on their business," says David Voorhees, a Holin Hall resident who says he supports the idea because without additional funding, schools may have to increase class size or cancel foreign language programs for elementary school students.

Alexandria has a four percent meals tax that raises about $17 million a year. Arlington also has a four percent tax, which raises about $35 million a year. Hyland says that a five percent meals tax in Fairfax County could raise about $100,000. (Correction: The actual amount is $100 million, not $100,000.)

But many restaurants owners oppose the idea as an unfair burden. They say their sales tax was just increased from five to six percent to pay for transportation, so adding another five percent tax for the schools would be too much.

"There's going to be a lot of taxes on us, and we've got enough already. It's going to be too much," says Trainini Gutierrez, a manager at Chevy's Fresh Mex. "I don't think a lot of people are going to be able to go out and spend a lot of money on taxes."

Some say they are willing to digest the tax, especially if Hyland is able to earmark the revenue specifically for education. Supporters say many people will never even notice the tax.

"People have to eat," says Li Lin, manager at Quickfire Hibachi. "Everybody has to pay. Not just us. We would just pass it on, helping the county connect the money from the people."

Hyland plans to raise the issue to his colleagues on the Board of Supervisors next month.

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