Will Henrico, Chesterfield serve up meals tax?

Posted at 12:11 AM, Jan 24, 2013
and last updated 2013-01-24 05:31:04-05

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) - Owners of restaurants in Henrico and Chesterfield are bracing for a possible meals tax.

On Wednesday afternoon, the Senate Finance Committee narrowly approved legislation that would allow both counties to impose a meals tax up to four percent without a voter referendum.  However, a tax levy would require unanimous support from the Board of Supervisors of both counties.

The legislation, now headed to the full Senate, passed by a 7-6 vote.

The Garcia Family, owners of the popular Mexico food chain, says they oppose the legislation because it unfairly targets the restaurant and catering industry.

“I think a flat sales tax for everything would be better than singling out certain businesses,” argues Marco Garcia.

Senator Donald McEachin (D - Henrico) - says the Henrico County Board of Supervisors asked him to carry the legislation.

“They asked for the power, and in my mind, they ought to be given the power,” says McEachin.

In a late request, Republican Senator John Watkins asked that Chesterfield be included in the legislation.

McEachin argues the bill is necessary to help localities dealing with millions in deficits and confronted with raising property taxes or cutting vital county services.

“There’s no real reason why the city of Richmond should be able to levy this tax and the county of Henrico should not be able to,” says McEachin.

The city of Richmond has a six percent meals tax, which can change without a public referendum.

Restaurant owner Jake Crocker says he’s been fighting the meals tax in the city since 2011, arguing it sends customers into the counties to eat.

Crocker says while a meals tax in Henrico and Chesterfield would put the city on a more even playing field, he argues it will only hurt more restaurants.

“We still don’t want to embrace that,” Crocker says.  “We don’t feel it’s right as restaurants and citizens of this area to tax sustenance over anything else.”

While the legislation faces an uphill battle in the House of Delegates, the bill is receiving bi-partisan support.

Several lawmakers argue a meals tax would impact the least amount of people while helping strapped localities.