With the agreement on taxes behind Virginia lawmakers, what is likely to be the most contentious issue is how funds raised by half of the sales tax increase will be distributed.
The intent was for the money to go to schools. But apparently the bill doesn’t require that. The money could be used by localities to reduce property taxes, meaning a fight soon to be enjoined by school advocates will be at local levels.
How much they will be fighting over is also yet to be decided. There is reportedly a promise from the Governor to support a plan to distribute the ¼-cent based on student population, and not the local composite index, a formula that considers an area’s ability to pay for its own schools.
Currently, the one-cent of sales tax that is dedicated to schools is distributed through a formula that considers the number of students in a jurisdiction.
Under the LCI, on the other hand, Fairfax and other wealthier areas get the short end of the stick. The quarter percent could be as much as $54 million or as little as $24 million, depending on whether school age population or the LCI is used.
Sen. John Chichester apparently prefers the LCI.
Chichester disagreed with his colleagues from Northern Virginia, saying [using student population] would harm disadvantaged schools.
“Because of the car tax, are you going to make the disparity greater between the haves and the have-nots?” he asked. “If you want to exacerbate disparity, I think you are cruising for an untenable situation.”
What Chichester doesn’t mention that his area, Stafford County, although growing quickly as it attracts many affluent families fleeing northern suburbs, is still considered an area with little ability to pay. Its LCI is less than half that of Fairfax. So while Chichester may be looking after the have-nots, he’s also looking after his own constituents. That’s a fair strategy, but he shouldn’t paint it is as something noble.
Why isn’t every child treated equally? Sure, some areas have a greater ability to pay, but they also much higher costs from everything from teachers and the cost of building schools to helping the many immigrant children with special needs.