Sales tax legislation to fund schools passes Senate committee

Published 5:42 pm Friday, January 26, 2024

Legislation that would authorize any Virginia city or county to raise its sales tax rate by 1% by voter referendum to fund school construction has cleared its first hurdle.

Only nine Virginia localities – Charlotte, Gloucester, Halifax, Henry, Mecklenburg, Northampton, Patrick and Pittsylvania counties and the city of Danville – are afforded the option under current state law. Four bills, two in the House of Delegates and two in the state Senate, would abolish the list and expand the option to all cities and counties.

One of the four, Senate Bill 14, passed the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee in a 10-4 vote on Jan. 23. Sen. Todd Pillion, R-Abingdon, joined its sponsor, Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-Prince William, and eight Democrats in supporting the bill. The four “nay” votes came from Sen. Ryan McDougle, Mark Obenshain, Richard Stuart and Bryce Reeves, all Republicans.

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To become law, McPike’s bill will eventually need to be approved by the full Senate and be approved by the House of Delegates during “crossover,” a date set for Feb. 13 this year when each chamber gets to vote on the other’s approved bills.

On Jan. 25, McPike’s bill was “engrossed,” meaning any amendments from the Senate floor have been incorporated and the bill will advance to its third reading. On Jan. 26, the Senate listed McPike’s bill as “passed by for the day,” meaning the full body hasn’t taken a vote on the matter yet.

Meanwhile identically worded House bills 458, 600 and 805 are awaiting a vote by the House Committee on Finance. Del. Katrina Callsen, D-Charlottesville, is sponsoring HB 458; Del. Terry Kilgore, R-Scott, is sponsoring HB 600; and Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, is sponsoring HB 805.

“Unlike what we’ve had in the past there is bipartisan submittal of those bills,” Isle of Wight Assistant County Administrator Don Robertson told county supervisors on Jan. 16.

Isle of Wight has lobbied for the legislation for the past four years in hopes of securing an additional revenue source to pay for the recently completed construction of Hardy Elementary, which opened its doors to students in September, and the planned replacement of the 1960s-era Westside Elementary. Replacing Westside, according to the county’s most recent estimate, would likely cost just over $71 million.

Former Sen. Tommy Norment, R-James City, had proposed legislation in 2021 and in 2022 that would have added Isle of Wight to the list of authorized localities, but both times the bills stalled in the House. Norment retired at the end of 2023. Former Del. Sally Hudson, D-Charlottesville, in 2022, and former state Sen. Jennifer McClellan, D-Richmond, in 2023, sponsored legislation that would have expanded the sales tax option to all localities, but those too stalled in the House.

On Jan. 16, Isle of Wight County’s supervisors joined its School Board in passing a unanimous joint resolution urging Isle of Wight’s General Assembly representatives to approve McPike’s bill. The resolution is addressed to Dels. Otto Wachsmann, R-Sussex, and Nadarius Clark, D-Suffolk, who each represent Isle of Wight in the House, as well as to Sen. Emily Jordan, R-Isle of Wight.