Petition drive continues for Put Schools First

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 12/21/2018, 6 a.m.
Put Schools First is still collecting signatures to get a proposed change to the City Charter on a future Richmond ...


Paul Goldman

Put Schools First is still collecting signatures to get a proposed change to the City Charter on a future Richmond ballot to allow voters to decide whether to pump more tax dollars into school construction and limit financing for the Coliseum replacement project that Mayor Levar M. Stoney has endorsed.

Paul Goldman, who founded PSF and is leading the petition drive, said efforts “are still ongoing” to collect the nearly 14,000 signatures needed to get the proposed charter change on the ballot.

He had hoped to collect more than enough signatures on Election Day, Nov. 6, but rainy weather interfered.

Mr. Goldman declined to disclose the number of signatures collected so far or predict when the work would be done. But he said he plans this week to seek a court order that would require the Richmond Voter Registrar’s Office to begin checking signatures on the petitions to determine how many are from registered voters.

Mr. Goldman used the same approach last year to secure a City Charter change to focus on modernizing schools. He said he is confident that enough signatures would be collected before the July deadline to get the issue on the ballot by next November, or possibly sooner in a special election.

PSF’s proposal would allow voters to require that at least 51 percent of all tax dollars raised through a Tax Increment Financing, or TIF, District be used to pay for modernizing schools. If such a measure passed, it would go to the 2020 session of the General Assembly for final approval.

Such a change would reduce the amount of tax dollars available to cover the principal and interest cost of city borrowing for a new Coliseum, a main element of the plan that the mayor supports.

That plan calls for creating an 80-block TIF District that would use the increase in real estate taxes from the area and increases in other taxes in a portion of the TIF to repay money borrowed to build a new, larger arena, to renovate the vacant Blues Armory as a market and entertainment center and to upgrade streets and utility infrastructure in a 10-block area near City Hall that includes the Coliseum.

Once the annual cost of repaying debt for those items is covered, Mayor Stoney has proposed that any surplus in tax revenues collected from the TIF District be shared between the city’s general fund, public schools, public art and affordable housing development. Public schools under his proposal would get 50 percent of any surplus.

However, projections from studies commissioned by the city administration to review the plan indicate that during the first 15 years, most of the tax dollars raised in the TIF District would go to pay principal and interest on the borrowed funds.

Mr. Goldman’s proposal also would bar any increase in the city’s meals tax, or the city sales tax on prepared food, for five years and require City Council to hold a citizen vote on any increase after that.