As the debate over Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney’s meals-tax proposal continues, some points have come up that seem worthy of note. They don’t necessarily swing the case one way or the other, but they do add detail to the discussion.
First, Paul Goldman — author of a charter-change proposal that recently was struck down in the House of Delegates — points out that Stoney’s tune has changed slightly.
In an Op/Ed column in this newspaper in September, the mayor wrote (emphasis added): “We have already discussed with School Board leadership the importance of the board taking action to approve a long-term facilities plan involving both the construction of new facilities and the consolidation of existing buildings, similar to the Option Five laid out by the Schools Facilities Task Force in 2015. Once that plan has been presented and vetted, I will instruct my administration to develop a plan to fund the first phase of the needed investment over the next five years.”
The School Board approved a facilities plan in December. But as a Times-Dispatch explainer noted, “The main thing it doesn’t do is consolidate schools” (even though some School Board members wanted to and even though one option on the table would have shuttered a total of 16). Thus the board did not meet the “both...and” condition Stoney laid out in his September column.
In a long blog post, former Richmond School Board member Carol Wolf points to a January Times-Dispatch story reporting that “only a quarter of recommendations made by Richmond’s city auditor to city departments were fully implemented by a September deadline, the lowest rate in a decade.” Not all of those recommendations are money-savers, to be sure. But if the mayor is going to insist he cannot find money in “the seat cushions in City Hall,” surely he ought to at least look first.
Wolf also reminds readers about how much the city has shelled out for dubious enterprises such as the Redskins training camp and the Stone Brewery deal. Richmond issued $23 million in general obligation bonds for that project alone.
The city’s own poor choices on consolidation, corporate welfare, and operational efficiency are much to blame for its current plight. Yet rather than take corrective steps, the mayor is asking restaurants and their customers to bail city government out.
This needn’t be an either-or issue. As the Stoney administration has noted, the 1.5-cent hike it proposes will add little to the total tab for a meal out. And fixing Richmond’s decrepit school buildings is an indisputably worthy cause. But the mayor would get more support if he did not insist that a tax hike, and only a tax hike, should be at issue. The proposal would go down a lot easier if it were accompanied by a spoonful of cost-cutting.