RICHMOND, Va. — Despite the financial challenges to fix crumbling public schools in Richmond, the front runners in the mayoral race have taken tax increases off the table.
Candidates for the top job at City Hall, Joe Morrissey, Jack Berry, and Levar Stoney, all agreed that alternative funding must be found for public education in Richmond.
“A tax increase is not needed,” said Berry at Thursday evening’s Public Square event of the Richmond Times-Dispatch at The Library of Virginia. “Our economy is strong. We should be able to find the resources that are necessary for schools.”
“We can find the money for the new schools, I can think of three significant ways,” said Morrissey, who currently leads in the mayoral race, according to a recent poll.
“Number one, historical tax credits that have been used to develop Manchester and downtown Richmond. That’s a game changer,” he said. “Number two: a dedicated stream of revenue from our real estate taxes with a lock box like they do in the General Assembly, so those few pennies on every dollar go to consolidation, rehabilitation, and construction. Also, stop giving away tax abatements. And stop spending money on what are otherwise private sector endeavors."
"Before we raise taxes, before we have that conversation, the mayor and city council have to do a couple things. Number one: actually collect the dollar amount we’re owed,” Stoney said. "We’re at 96 percent collection rate while in the rest of the Commonwealth is at 98 percent, that’s $5 million we’re leaving on the table. Imagine if we collected 100 percent? That’s $10 million we can invest in public schools."
Most candidates plan to collect unpaid taxes, which the city failed to collect, and put the money to funding Richmond’s Public Schools. Only Bobby Junes said that he favored tax increases.
“I’m very much open to a public property tax’” said Junes, at the forum, who declined an interview about his education policies after the event. He said that when a state or non-profit organization partners with a private entity, “they would be subject to a real estate tax.”
But Jon Baliles said he believed raising taxes should be a last resort. His own plan counters Mayor Jones’ proposal, which calls for raising real estate, property, meal and admission tax.
“We can do a better job collecting revenue that’s owed to us,” said Baliles.
City Council President and mayoral candidate Michelle Mosby, who is also against raising taxes, said that she does not believe it is the mayor’s responsibility to propose an education plan, but instead the School Board’s responsibility to request resources from the mayor.
Her opponent Levar Stoney disagreed.
"It may not be in the responsibilities of the mayor, but there is a role for the mayor to play, and we have not seen that yet," Stoney said. "It breaks my heart that you disagree that the mayor can’t lead on education."
Front runner Joe Morrissey said he believed the city should not invest in “private sector endeavors,” like the 6th Street Marketplace, Main Street Station, and the Redskins Training Camp.
“With the current administration we’ve doubled down with Redskins stadium,” said Morrissey. “$14 million and what did we get out of it? The right to pay them another $500,000 a year.”
Bruce Tyler said there is no need to raise taxes because of government inefficiencies.
“In order to fund our schools, in particular the renovation, we need about $14 to $16 million a year in additional capital to actually fund those schools and that’s about one and a half to two percent of our current budget,” said Tyler.
Lawrence Williams said the school needs more money than other candidates are willing to admit.
“We need a budget of $400 to $500 million. Not a one time fix, but annually,” Williams said.
The candidates will debate at another mayoral forum at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts on Sept. 29 at 6:30 p.m. RSVP is required for this event as audience space is limited.
EDITOR’S NOTE: WTVR.com has partnered with the “iPadJournos” mobile and social media journalism project at VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students from the project reported the following story. Due to a technical difficulty a recorded interview with mayoral candidate Michelle Mosby is not available.