The original referendum overwhelmingly supported by Richmonders in November now has the backing of a Virginia House of Delegates subcommittee. The referendum was passed by 85 percent of Richmond voters in effort to improve and modernize Richmond Public Schools (RPS) without raising taxes.
The subcommittee originally shot down a version of the referendum earlier in the session, but has now unanimously approved Senate Bill 750 introduced by Senator Glen Sturtevant (R-Richmond) with an 8-0 vote. The measure, which states that Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney must present a plan to modernize RPS without raising taxes on city residents, will now be forwarded to the full committee for a final vote.
Sturtevant’s bill states that Mayor Stoney must present that budget plan by January 1, 2019 explaining whether RPS facilities can be fixed and revitalized without raising taxes or state that additional measures need to be taken. This comes just two weeks after the Richmond City Council voted 6-3 in Stoney’s favor to raise the city’s meals tax from six percent to 7.5 percent in order to raise money for the RPS rebuild.
“Our city schools – our infrastructure – are crumbling,” Sturtevant said, according to a Richmond Times-Dispatch report. “There’s a real challenge. We’ve got a lot of buildings that need help,” he added.
The original House version of the bill would have made it possible for Richmond’s mayor to raise taxes. House Bill 1409, introduced by Delegate Jeff Bourne (D-Richmond) was contrary to the popular referendum, which Stoney opposed.
Republican Sturtevant is confident that his legislative measure will pass through the House Counties, Cities, and Towns Committee due to its popularity with the public. “It’s got very much a broad-based support from across the city because it’s such an important thing for the city,” he said.
A few subcommittee members questioned the aim of the bill. They asked if by approving the measure, would state legislators be crossing over into the role of City Council.
“This is not the General Assembly stepping in,” Sturtevant said. “I think it’s very different than that. We are simply the vehicle for charter changes,” he explained.
During the discussion, Paul Goldman, the architect of the referendum, spoke in favor of the bill. He has been outwardly and publicly adamant that Mayor Stoney should not have moved forward with the meals tax increase before other areas of city expenditures were revisited.
Former Richmond-area delegate Manoli Loupassi has also criticized the city’s financing plans of other projects in front of RPS. He emphasized that Richmond should be putting money towards the modernization of RPS before paying for the training facility for NFL franchise Washington Redskins, which costs city taxpayers $750,000 every year.
Recently, Hope Talley a fourth-grade teacher at Richmond’s George Mason Elementary School, explained her frustrations with the conditions at her school with the School Board during a public hearing. She wore a surgical mask around her head as emphasis to the fact that some teachers wear masks when the air quality in the building bothers them.
“It’s horrible,” Loupassi said during the subcommittee hearing. “No human being should have to learn in such a way.”