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Voters' Answers: 9. Eating Out Trumps Building Schools

Question #9: Will Loudoun County voters agree to make restaurant meals and prepared foods in supermarkets as much as four percent more expensive to fund the building of more schools?


By a convincing 70 percent vote, Loudoun residents said no way do they want to raise the restaurant and prepared foods tax to pay for new schools, even if a good chunk of that tax revenue would come from travelers using Dulles airport.

This was not a kneejerk vote against paying for any more schools or public facilities in the nation's capital of hypergrowth. To the contrary, Loudoun voters in the same election said yes (albeit by a lower, 53 percent vote) to paying for a new elementary school in Ashburn and a new high school in the Dulles area, and, by a 60 percent vote, to building a new fire-rescue station as well.

But they didn't want to make a permanent addition to the roster of taxes they face, and given the time-stressed lifestyle of so many Loudoun families, anything that promised to make more difficult or expensive that daily act of putting food on the table in time to fend off evening surliness from one or another family member was just a bad idea.

The tax was indeed not the swiftest of ideas. The growth and development issue, which has dominated Loudoun politics for nearly two decades, is directly connected to lifestyle and commuter issues--and getting home in time to make dinner is one of the big stresses in life in the outer suburbs. Anything that smacks of adding stress to one of the key domestic functions of the average workday is going to be a non-starter in that community.

The good news for planners and educators is that this continues to be a county that is open to spending money on new public facilities. It's just a question of how they get paid for. The failure of the meals tax will put more pressure on county property taxes, according to county officials, and that's especially tough given the growing number of foreclosures and the sinking value of properties in some parts of the county.

By Marc Fisher |  November 5, 2008; 3:17 PM ET
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