Sales tax bill passes. What does that mean?

Published 2:25 pm Tuesday, March 5, 2024

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

A request by Prince Edward County has opened a door for Lunenburg as well. For several years, Prince Edward supervisors have been asking the Virginia General Assembly to give them the ability to raise the sales tax by 1%, with the money going to fund renovations over at Prince Edward Elementary. 

On Monday, Feb. 26, they got their wish, with a bit of a twist. The Virginia House approved the county’s sales tax request by a vote of 68-28. Del. Tommy Wright was one of those voting in favor of the proposal, which had already passed the Virginia Senate a month earlier. But it’s not just Prince Edward County affected by this bill. That’s the twist. The Assembly took Prince Edward’s request and merged it with another bill, one that would allow any and all counties in Virginia to raise their sales tax to help fund school construction. 

First off, let’s make a couple things clear. One, Gov. Glenn Youngkin still has to sign this bill into law, which he hasn’t done yet. Second, even if he does sign it, that doesn’t automatically mean the sales tax is going up. Supervisors would have to request a referendum, putting the question before voters. Residents would then choose if they want the tax increase. 


“The question that we have been struggling with, and one that all smaller communities like Prince Edward face, is how do we generate enough revenue to cover the annual debt service for school construction projects,” said Prince Edward Administrator Doug Stanley. 

The reason they went with a sales tax request, Stanley and Prince Edward supervisor Cannon Watson said, was so that any tourists or other visitors would be contributing, not just county residents. 

“This is the classic case of many hands making light work,” Watson said. “You allow your visitors to help pay for your new elementary school. We have a lot of visitors, we have a lot of day trippers. Look at Hampden-Sydney, we’re gonna have a big influx of people for the NCAA basketball tournament.”

Prince Edward has Hampden-Sydney College, Longwood University, a number of festivals that take place in downtown and other events throughout the county. All of those things, Watson pointed out, means visitors coming in. 

“This way, those people would be helping build our elementary school with every purchase,” Watson said. 


And Prince Edward isn’t the only county in this situation. The Virginia Commission on School Construction and Modernization found that a number of school districts reported crumbling buildings. In fact, more than half of the K-12 school buildings in Virginia are currently more than 50 years old. The commission found that the amount of funding needed to fully replace all of the crumbling school buildings in Virginia is estimated to be $24.8 billion. 

That’s where the expansion comes in. Rather than just approve Prince Edward’s request, the Assembly decided to give the same opportunity to every county in the Commonwealth, again, assuming that Gov. Youngkin signs this into law. But nothing will be forced. Each county’s officials would have to put forward the request and then residents would vote yes or no. 

“We believe the 1% local sales tax represents the best opportunity for our community to fund these needed school improvements without overburdening our land owners,” Stanley said. “We are pleased that the General Assembly has heard us and has voted to allow Prince Edward, and all the other localities in the state, this opportunity.”