Sales tax bill scrapped in extra session

Published 9:00 am Friday, April 26, 2024

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The sales tax fight is slowing down, at least for this year. The General Assembly failed to get enough votes to overturn Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s veto of the measure, meaning the current bill dies. A two-thirds majority is required to overturn a veto in Virginia and the vote fell far short of that. 

This vetoed bill would have given all counties in Virginia the ability to call a referendum and ask citizens if they support a 1% sales tax increase. In Virginia, a county or city has to ask the Assembly for permission before making a change like this. Language in the bill would have prevented the money from being spent on anything other than school renovations and new construction. Youngkin’s argument in vetoing the proposal was that he had promised not to give residents any tax increases during his time in office. 

Now we said the fight is slowing down, not that it’s dead, at least not yet. Yes, the current bill is dead, but there’s still a way to move this forward through the budget talks. The original bill was pushed for by neighboring Prince Edward County, where officials hoped to use it to cover the cost of debt service on their new elementary school renovations. Officials there said they still plan to fight for it. 

“Prince Edward County will continue to work with the Virginia Association of Counties and our lobbyist to advocate for this legislation as the General Assembly continues its work on the state budget,” Prince Edward County Administrator Doug Stanley said.

Language for a statewide proposal like this can be added by Assembly members in the budget, which they expect to come back and finish during a special session in May. Unlike a veto session, the budget doesn’t require a two-thirds majority to pass. 


Again, to be clear, money raised by this sales tax increase would be restricted to just school construction. Specifically in Prince Edward’s case, it would be earmarked to pay yearly debt service on the renovations for Prince Edward County Elementary. The current agreement, which county supervisors agreed to last August, stands at $43.3 million. 

As we’ve covered many times before, Prince Edward County Elementary has multiple roof leaks, problems where some classrooms are unusable due to mold and traffic problems due to the current design, just to name a few of the issues. 

Now, regardless if the bill passes or not, the county is moving forward with the renovation plan, as construction is expected to begin in early fall. During budget discussions this month, county officials have talked about setting aside the money received through Prince Edward’s new contract with the ICA Farmville detention center to cover the debt service if the sales tax language doesn’t make it into the budget. Stanley said the county will find a way to fund the renovations, but says the governor’s veto makes it a bit harder. 

“The Board of Supervisors has prioritized the renovations to the Prince Edward County Elementary School,” Stanley added. “The project will move forward to bid this summer and to construction this fall. The impact of the governor’s veto denies Prince Edward County citizens the ability to hold a referendum on a sales tax option, which limits the means by which the County can fund those improvements.” 


As for the renovations, plans are moving forward. The temporary classrooms will be ready to go by July 19. The plan calls for 15 temporary classrooms this fall, with four additional module units used as student toilets and one final module as a teacher workspace. Then, once the temporary classrooms are in place, a request for construction bids will be advertised in July, with the goal of getting them back in August. Actual construction should begin soon after. 

Once construction starts, the project involves demolishing the two oldest buildings at the elementary school. In their place will be new construction connecting the remaining buildings, making it much easier to travel between classrooms. It also involves more seating options, bigger classrooms in some cases and more options for hands-on learning, all of which were asked for by parents and staff during the community meetings in 2023. The total construction should take about 30 months, finishing up around March of 2027.

Stanley said the county will make sure its students have a good facility to attend and will keep working to get that sales tax in place, to help handle needed work. 

“In 1951, Barbara Rose Johns taught future generations of students to never quit in the fight for equal education,” Stanley said. “Regardless of race, regardless of socioeconomics and regardless of geography, all of Virginia’s students deserve decent and equal educational facilities and opportunities. This time, Prince Edward County wants to be on the right side of history. We will not quit on our students, and we will not quit trying to find the means to improve our school system.”