Editorial – Give voters say on how to fund new schools

Published 4:19 pm Tuesday, January 9, 2024

We fully grasp both sides of the debate over whether income taxes or consumption taxes are the fairer way to fund the activities of government. Those arguments will be made again in coming weeks as Gov. Glenn Youngkin pushes for reduced income taxes in exchange for a higher sales tax.

In case you missed it, the governor’s plan would reduce income taxes 12%, with a top rate of 5.1%, and offset the estimated annual revenue loss of $2.3 billion by raising the state’s sales tax rate less than a percentage point, from 4.3% to 5.2%. Critics, including many Democrats, who hold a slim majority in both chambers of the General Assembly, say consumption taxes are regressive because they disproportionately affect poor people.

We predict a logjam such as will be common this session with one party controlling the executive branch and the other controlling the legislative branch. We hope that broader debate doesn’t hurt the chances of a common-sense bill that would give growing communities like Isle of Wight more flexibility in funding construction of new schools.

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A bill that has been introduced annually in recent years is back in 2024. It would give voters the option in a referendum to adopt a 1% sales tax to help fund school construction.

Last year, the Senate approved a bill that would have made Isle of Wight the 10th locality statewide to have such permission from Richmond. Unfortunately, it didn’t make it through the House.

Appropriately, the sales tax hike would have to be approved by the people who would pay it, giving opponents the opportunity to block it if it’s not the will of the people. What could be fairer?

The additional sales tax would generate more than $2 million annually, not nearly enough to pay outright the tens of millions of dollars required to build a new school these days, but enough to help cover the debt service if county supervisors have to borrow the money.

Without a sales tax increase to help fund the debt service, the burden would fall entirely on property owners and mostly on homeowners. 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 facilities. 

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.