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Crucial votes lie ahead in Senate for sales tax bill

SoVaNow.com / February 11, 2019
A proposed local sales tax to pay for high school improvements in Halifax County faces another round of make-or-break votes in the General Assembly in the coming days.

After passing the House of Delegates by a 74-23 margin last week, House Bill 1634, introduced by Del. James Edmunds, has a crucial hurdle to clear this week: passage by the Senate Finance Committee, which is expected to take up the measure either Tuesday or Wednesday. The finance panel must approve the bill before it can head to the floor for a vote by the full Senate.

Local leaders who’ve endorsed the bill — including members of the Halifax County School Board and Board of Supervisors — have traveled to Richmond in recent weeks to speak on behalf of the idea of a local sales tax. Under the terms of Edmunds’ legislation, the proposed tax could go into effect only if citizens approve the levy in a countywide referendum in the fall.

Virginia localities are barred from imposing their own sales tax unless specifically authorized to do so under state law.

A penny increase on top of the state’s 5.3-cent sales tax would generate more than half of the revenue needed to pay for a $100 million replacement for the tattered Halifax County High School, which opened in 1979. The School Board has voted to build a new facility rather than renovate the existing one.

The tax, if approved, would not apply to groceries, medications, auto purchases and other goods and services that are not subject to the 5.3 cent state sales tax.

Supporters including Edmunds have focused their recent attention on lining up the county’s two Republication state senators — Frank Ruff of Clarksville and William Stanley of Rocky Mount, who represent the east and west portions of Halifax County — in favor of the bill. Ruff’s backing is considered to be especially important in his role as a member of the Senate Finance Committee.

School Board Chair Joe Gasperini said Sunday that he has received assurances from Ruff’s legislative aide that he will vote for the legislation. Although Gasperini said he wasn’t able to speak directly with Ruff on the matter in recent days, “there wasn’t any question of what [the aide] said. She said ‘he is in support of this legislation,’” Gasperini said.

The backing of Ruff and Stanley could be especially important with the bill required to gain supermajority support in both houses of the legislature. That’s because it is deemed “special legislation” — applying only to Halifax County. The House vote easily cleared the supermajority requirement; another two-thirds vote will be required in the 40-member State Senate.

Repeated efforts by this newspaper to contact Ruff for comment on the bill have been unsuccessful. A staff member for Stanley, Phil Rapp, said he is waiting for the Finance Committee to act on the bill before he’ll decides whether to support it.

“We don’t know what this thing will look like before it comes out of committee,” said Rapp.

Gasperini said he would have preferred that the House take up Edmunds’ legislation as it was originally written — the draft bill would have allowed localities around Virginia to hold sales tax referendums for school capital projects — but the trustees chair said he understood the need to scale back the legislation to overcome objections by some House lawmakers.

“The way politics works, you’ve have to get it [the bill] to the next step. We were very fortunate we got it to the next step,” he said.

Gasperini said passage of a sales tax would put Halifax County “in real good shape” to move forward with a replacement HCHS facility without relying too heavily on a property tax increase, although some hike in property taxes would likely be required for the project.

If the legislation wins passage in the General Assembly and is signed into law by the governor, the next big hurdle will be gaining popular support via a county referendum. Gasperini said if Halifax County gets this far, the community will come up against a fateful moment: “It would be extremely disappointing if we get this through the House and the Senate and then it failed to pass [a referendum]. I think it would probably be the biggest mistake the county could ever do. We’re not going to get this support again,” he said.



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Comments

This bill needs to die in the Senate! While many people are thanking Delegate Edmunds, they really need to be digging and looking at what he has done for himself and his family since getting into politics. When he was a Board of Supervisors member he worked to get Ag-Forestal Districts established which lowered the real estate taxes for large landowners, which included his mother who enrolled. He stands to directly benefit now IF Halifax County creates land use taxation. The Honorable Delegate is seeking to pass off the tax burden to the poor folks in Halifax County and save himself, his family, and large land barons tons of money that should be collected and used for the new High School. Do not support this idea folks and please reject land use taxation, call your Board member and tell them average taxpaying citizen in this County cannot bear the burden for the school.

Comments

Vote no on a new school and any new sales taxes. I support the land use tax as this will help many small farmers as well. People have no clue how much it costs to farm. While I disagree with Edmunds, I don't think he supported this just to help himself.

Comments

@allpolitical2 - I was not implying by any means that the SMALL farmer should not be helped out but it is a fact that the good Delegate's family has benefited by the AFD program and thus paid a reduced share of taxes for the last 8 years. That is self serving if you ask me, anyone in politics should abstain from such relief in my opinion. Any major increases in real estate taxes would most surely affect him as a large landowner, however the sales tax increase would pass the burden directly onto the buying public.

Comments

Legalize cannabis and tax it. It could be paid off in just a few years.


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