On Monday, the Virginia Senate approved legislation that is in line with the measures listed in November 2017 Richmond referendum which outlined a modernization program for Richmond Public Schools (RPS) facilities. With a unanimous 40-0 vote, the bill will now be forwarded to the House of Delegates just hours before the Richmond City Council votes on raising the capital city’s meals tax to cover the cost.
Senate Bill 750, introduced by Senator Glen Sturtevant (R-Richmond), requires Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney (D) to present a budget plan that fully funds the modernization plan for RPS. Mayor Stoney must present the plan by January 1, 2019 stating whether or not the provisions to improve city’s K-12 educational infrastructure can be accomplished under the current city budget. Furthermore, the bill restricts Stoney’s financial moves to fully fund the plan as he cannot raise taxes on city dwellers to do so.
The House version of the same bill, H.B. 1409, introduced by Delegate Jeff Bourne (D-Richmond), included a provision where the mayor would be allowed to raise taxes in order to provide the funds necessary to reinvigorate RPS facilities. The bill was in opposition to the November referendum, which Stoney opposed. The referendum passed with an overwhelming 85 percent of Richmonders in favor.
Nearly everyone in Richmond and the General Assembly is on board with modernizing RPS faculties and mending its crumbling infrastructure. However, the solution made to fully fund the expensive modernization plan has divided the city.
There has been much contention in the air over the last few weeks over the lack of financial means to rebuild RPS facilities and fulfill the referendum plan. Mayor Stoney announced last month that he was proposing a meals tax increase in order to fund the RPS overhaul, causing a public uproar. While it may seem small, the 1.5 cent increase from 6 cents to 7.5 cents is a heavy burden on restaurant owners and those working in the food industry. This comes after questions and concerns from citizens regarding alternative paths of funding for RPS modernization, including a rumored cigarette tax.
Richmond restaurateurs were outraged over the measure and met in Scott’s Addition two weeks ago to voice their concerns of the mayor’s plans of the tax hike. Many in the foodie city claim it will drive away business to Henrico and Chesterfield counties where taxes are not as hefty. They also stated that Stoney was singling out the industry to pay for the RPS rebuild and should research other means of tax revenue. When combined with sales tax, Richmond has one of the highest meals taxes in the country.
Paul Goldman, creator of the RPS referendum, has fervently and openly supported Senator Sturtevant’s bill which does not allow the mayor to raise taxes. According to the Richmond School Board, formerly filled by both Sturtevant and Bourne, modernizing all RPS facilities and schools would take over 20 years to complete, costing around $800 million.
The Senate bill will now head to the House Counties, Cities and Towns Committee for a final vote. According to a report from the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the tax increase being voted on Monday night by the Richmond City Council is not affected by General Assembly action.