Meals tax redux

2/17/2018, 9:25 a.m.

We applaud the Richmond City Council for approving the city meals tax hike.

We heard the anguish — and the urgency — from people on both sides of the meals tax debate who spoke at Monday night’s City Council meeting. In the end, what unifies us all is the universal support for Richmond Public Schools and the 24,000 youngsters who attend them.

No one wants Richmond’s children to attend classes in aged, decrepit, unhealthy, unsafe school buildings. No one can learn when they are welcomed each day by leaky roofs and falling ceilings, rodent droppings, bathrooms that don’t work, cold food delivered to a makeshift lunchroom in a trailer because the cafeteria is overcrowded and health issues spawned by mold spreading across classrooms.

As we have said previously, increasing the city’s meals tax to help fund $150 million in renovation and new school construction is just a first step — and a first step only. 

The City Council, Mayor Levar M. Stoney, the Richmond School Board and other officials must be held accountable to come up with a plan to find the additional $650 million-plus that schools officials say is needed to renovate and replace school buildings.

Charter change legislation winding its way through the General Assembly calls for the mayor to come up with a fully funded schools improvement plan without raising taxes. But Monday night’s vote gets the city under the wire without the “no new taxes” edict backed by the voter-approved November referendum and the GOP. The meals tax hike will allow the city to generate new revenue that will be dedicated to schools, which makes sense.

Now the hard part arrives.

We urge Councilman Parker C. Agelasto, along with the residents of Richmond, to hold the city’s and the School Board’s feet to the fire when the 2018-19 budget is up for review. Why are we funding breweries and NFL football training camps, arts centers and other things when our schoolchildren are going without?

If the argument is that these ventures bring revenue to the city, then put the evidence on the table for the citizens of Richmond to see. If there is no evidence, or if the evidence shows that these ventures ultimately are costing the city money, then they should be scrapped.

What cuts must be made, what program streamlining and consolidations can be enacted in city and school departments, in order for the urgent and long-neglected needs of our schoolchildren to be met?

Where is the money going from the current 6 percent meals tax? Can it, too, be used for schools?

Councilman Agelasto raised numerous legitimate and compelling questions. Now it’s up to Mayor Stoney, the city administration, the School Board and schools Superintendent Jason Kamras to show us the answers.

As many speakers said Monday night, our children cannot wait.