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Letter: Fairfax supervisors should make call on meals tax

'Fairfax County is a shining example of representative democracy in action.'

To the editor: Regarding the GazetteLeader’s June 6 editorial [“Meals Tax? Sure . . . With a Referendum First, That Is”], a referendum on a possible meals tax is unnecessary to uphold representative democracy in Fairfax County.

To be sure, it is unlikely that voters would demand repeal of a meals tax. Visitors would provide about 30 percent of meals-tax revenues, which would save Fairfax County households approximately 26 percent to 53 percent compared with raising the same revenues through real-estate taxes, with lower-income households getting the largest percentage in savings.

For decades, the General Assembly used a referendum requirement to kneecap county leaders (but not city and town leaders) considering use of a meals tax to help fund public services. Supporters in small counties could organize enough support to pass this hurdle. But large counties like Fairfax County, which currently has 265 precincts and more than 800,000 registered voters, were more susceptible to evidence-free fearmongering by meals-tax opponents.

In 2016, such opponents, with significant support from ideologically driven non-Fairfax County organizations, spent more than twice as much as meals-tax supporters, who largely relied on individual, local contributors.

In all likelihood, a meals tax will be adopted because most supervisors do not begin and end their analysis with the 40-year-old cliché that “we have a spending problem, not a revenue problem.” If Fairfax County voters disagree with using a meals tax to make our tax base more diverse and fair, while helping preserve high-quality public services, they can always vote for supervisors who will repeal the meals tax.

Holding another meals-tax referendum would only show once again why direct democracy on complex issues can open opportunities for special interests – laden with outsider cash – to cloud debate and possibly persuade voters against adopting good policies.

In contrast, Fairfax County supervisors doing their homework, making hard decisions and accepting the political risk of doing what they believe is right for our community would show why Fairfax County is a shining example of representative democracy in action.

Jason Morgan, Vienna