Corey Stewart wants to trade a major tax hike on Prince William’s data centers for some tax relief for county residents and small businesses — but the backlash to that proposition has been so intense that he may not be able to deliver on the coveted election-year tax cut.
Stewart, the Republican chairman of the Board of County Supervisors, is proposing that the county effectively triple its “programmable computer equipment and peripherals” tax rate, a move that would overwhelmingly affect companies in the data center business.
Naturally, that’s prompted intense condemnations from interest groups like the Northern Virginia Technology Council and the county’s Chamber of Commerce, which have begun working to convince the board that such a tax hike would cripple one of the county’s strongest businesses.
But Stewart is pitching the change as a win for Prince William taxpayers, as he hopes to use the $21 million that the tax increase would generate in fiscal 2019 to slash the county’s real estate tax rate. In a rare divergence from his normally cozy relationship with local businesses, Stewart has even begun painting the tax hike as a chance for the mammoth tech companies controlling most of the county’s data centers to pay their fair share.
…It doesn’t hurt Stewart’s case, either, that Dominion Energy’s bitterly controversial plans to build a power line through western Prince William were, in part, driven by the needs of an Amazon-controlled data center in Haymarket.
Yet the timing of Stewart’s proposal has raised some eyebrows. A tax cut for county residents would make for a nice feather in Stewart’s cap as the June 12 Republican primary for the U.S. Senate race draws closer, particularly as one of his chief rivals (Del. Nick Freitas, R-30th District) has begun attacking his record on managing the county’s tax burden.
“How and when he’s doing this all calls into question his motivations,” said Supervisor Frank Principi, D-Woodbridge. “This is not the first time he’s done this sort of thing. It’s not a one-off. Something conceived in this kind of environment is probably not the right thing to do.”
…The chief obstacle Stewart will need to overcome in this tax push will likely be the concerted lobbying efforts by the chamber and the tech council to keep the computer equipment tax rate flat at $1.25 per $100 of assessed value.
“It’s just does not create a very welcoming business climate,” said Brendon Shaw, the county chamber’s director of government relations. “Without data centers, where do you backfill that capital investment in the county?”
Stewart argues that increasing the tax rate won’t cause companies that have already invested in Prince William to flee the county, as doing so would force them to abandon the large facilities they’ve already spent millions to build. But Josh Levi, the Northern Virginia Technology Council’s vice president for policy, believes that sort of view represents a misunderstanding of the industry, and he’s been working with supervisors to adjust that impression…. (continued)