County supervisors took steps toward enacting three new local taxes at their Nov. 17 meeting, including taxes on admissions, cigarettes, and single-use plastic bags.
The county will seek to join the Northern Virginia Cigarette Tax Board, which would allow Loudoun to levy a tax of two cents per cigarette, or 40 cents a pack. The towns of Hillsboro, Leesburg, Lovettsville, Middleburg, Purcellville, and Round Hill are already members.
Supervisors are after not only the estimated $2.4 million in revenue, but the discouraging effect on smoking that taxes have been shown to have. Some of those studies were cited in the staff report provided to supervisors.
“Nicotine is an incredibly dangerous drug, and it costs a lot of money when you smoke and have all the other medical problems that come with it down the line,” said County Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large). “If I could, I would double the price of cigarettes. I would price cigarettes so high no one would ever smoke again if I could. I’ll take 40 cents, but I gotta tell you, this tax right here saves lives, and there’s not too many times you can actually say that a tax on anything literally saves lives.”
“I am adamantly opposed to smoking, I’m just not sure that raising taxes on cigarettes is going to make a difference in how many people smoke,” said Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge).
“I’m not sure if the correct policy process is, we impose taxes on people because we want to control their behavior,” said Supervisor Caleb A. Kershner (R-Catoctin). “That’s really not the purpose behind our ability to tax.”
Randall called those arguments “baffling.”
“It will save hundreds of millions of dollars if we decrease the amount of smoking,” Randall said. “If you are fiscally conservative, this is the most fiscally conservative thing you could possibly do. And honestly, if you are pro-life, because of how much damage it does to babies in utero, this is the most pro-life thing you can do.”
Supervisors voted to petition the Northern Virginia Cigarette Tax Board for membership on a 6-2-1 vote, with Buffington and Kershner opposed and Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) absent.
The possible new taxes on tickets and plastic bags were both prompted by new local authorities granted by the General Assembly, with the admissions tax having been on the county’s legislative agenda for the state after announcing the deal to bring Loudoun United and Segra Field to Philip A. Bolen Memorial Park near Leesburg.
But with that new authority granted this year, supervisors are now seeking to limit it to professional sporting events rather than taxing events generally. Supervisors voted 8-0-1, with Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles) absent, to ask Attorney General Mark Herring whether localities have the authority to make that distinction.
The General Assembly also this year granted localities the power to levy a 5-cent tax on single-use plastic bags, but supervisors don’t plan to use that power until at least January 2022, when the country is hoped to be clear of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If you do the stream cleaning in your neighborhood, which a few of us up here that I know of personally have done over the years, you’re going to see nothing but plastic bags in those streams and ponds and whatnot, so this is a way to prevent that from happening,” said Vice Chairman Koran T. Saines (D-Sterling).
Retailers keep a portion of the tax. The tax is expected to bring in $430,000 in the first year, increasing to $570,000 over the next two years as retailers keep a smaller portion of tax revenues.
By state law, revenues from the plastic bag tax must be used for cleaning the environment, providing education programs designed to reduce environmental waste, mitigating pollution and litter, or providing reusable bags to recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or Women, Infants, and Children benefits. According to a staff report, Loudoun’s government would likely use the money for community clean-up events and special recycling events.
Supervisors voted 6-2-1 to set the county staff to work implementing that tax, with Supervisors Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge) and Caleb A. Kershner (R-Catoctin) opposed.