The governor’s race did not provide the only surprise on Election Night. Henrico and Chesterfield voters may have confounded some expectations with their meals-tax votes.
Henrico residents narrowly approved one — a slight shift from eight years ago, when they narrowly rejected one. Straitened economic circumstances that have forced the county to cut spending, along with generally solid management, likely account for the change. County Manager John Vithoulkas has pledged the expected $18 million in annual proceeds to the schools, and voters can rely on him to keep that word.
Chesterfield residents rejected their meals-tax proposal, even though it was smaller and had a sunset provision. Yet they approved spending on school buildings and a public-safety radio system the tax was to have paid for. In Washington, that would translate to deficit spending — which is supposedly anathema to Republicans, who dominate Chesterfield (Ken Cuccinelli won almost two-thirds of the vote in western precincts).
Could it be that the separate questions in Chesterfield — meals tax and projects for public safety and the schools — redounded to the disadvantage of the tax proposal? Voters were able to indicate their support for the projects while reasserting their hostility to new taxes. Henrico residents who agreed with the county’s assessment of the school system’s needs had one option — vote for the meals tax.
Yet unlike Washington, the county cannot run a budget in the red. Supervisor Dan Gecker says the voting results will mean either a real-estate tax increase, cuts in services, or a mix of both. Voters clearly weren’t happy about raising even a discretionary tax. They might not be happy about not raising it, either.