Virginia’s capital city is raising its meals tax. The money is earmarked to help fix the city’s crumbling schools. Richmond City Council voted late Tuesday night 7 to 2. It was a long and contentious meeting.
After five hours, including two of public comment, Council voted to increase the meals tax from 6-percent to 7.5-percent.
Richmond’s Mayor Levar Stoney initially proposed the tax increase just two weeks ago. But teacher and advocate Chris Lombardi says financial support for city schools has been a long time coming.
“Two years after hundreds of people were on the front steps of city hall just demanding for better - we’re still kind of having these same conversations,” says Lombardi.
Now, Lombardi feels there’s a greater sense of urgency and he’s optimistic. Several students turned out to speak in favor of the tax increase. But many local business owners were opposed.
By the end of the night, it became clear the tax would pass. Jake Crocker was one of the few restaurant owners who hung around to the end.
“Everybody else stormed off -- quite upset. This is a very emotional issue, we all support the schools,” says Crocker.
Additional Content: Richmond Considers Meals Tax for Education, Roanoke's Already Done It
A proposal to add a five-year sunset to the tax failed, as did a suggestion to postpone the vote for one month. The increase will kick in July 1.
The city estimates it will raise about $9 million a year. The administration plans to use that revenue to borrow an additional $150 million.
In a statement Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney says the vote sends a strong message to students.
“This is just the first big step in what will be many more steps to improve our schools for our children,” Stoney wrote. “After decades of telling them to wait, tonight we put them first.”