Editorial – Another defeat for needed bill

Published 5:15 pm Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Isle of Wight County property owners should lament yet another defeat for legislation that would help ease the financial burden of school construction.

A bill that would have let cities and counties ask their voters to approve a sales tax surcharge to finance school construction or renovation died in the House Finance Committee after approval by the state Senate. Authorization of up to a one-cent sales tax increase has been considered repeatedly by the General Assembly in recent years, to no avail.

As it stands, the estimated $25 billion required to fund school construction currently needed will continue to fall entirely on the backs of property owners via real estate and personal property taxes. 

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Isle of Wight Supervisor Dick Grice made a sound but unpersuasive appeal to a House Finance subcommittee, noting a new Westside Elementary School would cause the county to raise its “already high” real estate tax rate by another 8 cents per $100 of assessed value.

He emphasized that lawmakers would not be raising taxes but rather just giving a community’s voters the chance to assess one.

“We say schools are a local responsibility; that’s what this bill does,” said state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, the bill’s sponsor.

A sales tax would allow renters, of whom there are many with kids in public schools, to help fund new or renovated schools. Also, those who live elsewhere but commute to Isle of Wight for work or visit for pleasure 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. Lawmakers owe localities flexibility in funding essential capital expenses like new schools.