Sales tax bills to fund school construction headed to governor

Published 4:36 pm Thursday, March 7, 2024

Legislation that would authorize any Virginia city or county to raise its sales tax 1% by voter referendum to fund school construction is on its way to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s desk.

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.

House of Delegates Bill 805, sponsored by Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, passed the House in a bipartisan 69-28 vote on Feb. 13. A Senate substitute passed the Senate in a 27-12 vote on Feb. 23 and passed the House by an even greater 71-26 margin than the original on Feb. 27.

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Senate Bill 14, a nearly identical bill sponsored by Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-Prince William, passed that body in a 27-13 bipartisan vote on Jan. 29 and drew further bipartisan support in a 68-28 House vote on Feb. 26 during crossover, when each chamber gets to vote on the other’s approved bills. A House substitute of McPike’s bill sent back to the Senate passed by a slightly smaller 25-14 margin on Feb. 28.

According to House Clerk G. Paul Nardo, each bill must be signed by House Speaker Don Scott and Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears. Once that happens, Nardo, as keeper of the roles of the Commonwealth, will forward each bill to Youngkin, who will have until midnight on April 8 to sign them.

Nardo said that if Youngkin signs both then both will become law, but since the two bills are identical, the text of whichever bill Youngkin signs last is what will go on Virginia’s books.

Isle of Wight County has been lobbying for the sales tax option for the past three years as a possible means of paying back more than $30 million it borrowed in 2020 and 2021 to replace the circa-1961 Hardy Elementary with a new, larger Hardy that opened its doors to students last September, and to fund the estimated $71 million cost of replacing another 1960s-era school, Westside Elementary. Dels. Nadarius Clark, D-Suffolk and Otto Wachsmann, R-Sussex, whose legislative districts encompass part of Isle of Wight, each voted in favor of the Senate and House versions of the sales tax bill, as did Sen. Emily Jordan, R-Isle of Wight.

Sen. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, and Del. Kim Taylor, R-Petersburg, whose districts include Surry County, also supported both bills.

This year’s field of proposals to expand the sales tax option to all localities began with four near-identical bills, of which only McPike’s and Rasoul’s remain. Dels. Katrina Callsen, D-Charlottesville, and Terry Kilgore, R-Scott, had sponsored two others that each stalled in a House finance committee on Feb. 13.

For the 1% sales tax surcharge to take effect in Isle of Wight, the Board of Supervisors would need to initiate the referendum process by passing a resolution petitioning the Circuit Court to put the question on the ballot during an upcoming election. If a majority of voters approve the tax, the supervisors would be granted the authority to adopt a sales tax ordinance beginning the 1% surcharge on the first day of a month at least 120 days after the ordinance’s adoption.