Sales tax is fair way to help fund new schools

Published 4:46 pm Tuesday, February 8, 2022

We’re pleased to see progress on legislation that would give local voters the option to adopt a one-cent sales tax to help fund school construction.

A bill by Sen. Tommy Norment, R-Williamsburg, would make Isle of Wight the 10th locality statewide to have such permission from Richmond. A similar bill didn’t make it out of a House committee a year ago after passing the Senate. This year’s version already was approved 27-12 by the Senate and now awaits consideration by the House of Delegates.

We commend Norment and Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, for supporting the bill and regret that Sen. John Cosgrove, R-Chesapeake, didn’t make it unanimous for Isle of Wight’s Senate delegation. Cosgrove was among the dozen “no” votes in the Senate.

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Appropriately, the tax hike would have to be approved by county voters in a referendum, giving opponents of the sales tax the chance to have the ultimate say. What could be fairer?

If adopted, the additional sales tax would generate more than $2 million annually to support new buildings for Hardy Elementary and perhaps Westside Elementary eventually, though the latter has been postponed indefinitely. Construction estimates for Hardy have ballooned since the county in 2020 borrowed $34 million, including $27 million earmarked for Hardy. The cost of that school is now over $40 million, counting higher-than-expected expense to supply water to the building.

Without the sales tax increase to help fund the debt service, the burden will fall entirely on property owners. A sales tax allows renters, who make up a substantial part of Isle of Wight’s population and many of whom send their children to public schools, to contribute to the cost of excellent school buildings.

Also, those who live elsewhere but commute to Isle of Wight for work would contribute any time they purchased a meal or tank of gas inside the county. Those who own real estate would still shoulder most of the responsibility, but anything to lessen their burden is welcome and appropriate, in our view.

A separate bill would give every locality in the state the option of a sales tax for school construction, but we’re less optimistic about its chances of passage than the Isle of Wight-specific bill, which has the full support of county elected leaders.