Vote “No” on All Three Virginia Constitutional Amendments

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    I’ve been reading over the arguments for and against the three constitutional amendments on the ballot tomorrow, and I’ve decided that I will vote “no” on all three.  

    The first ballot question would amend  Section 6 of Article X of the Constitution of Virginia “to authorize legislation that will permit localities to establish their own income or financial worth limitations for purposes of granting property tax relief for homeowners not less than 65 years of age or permanently and totally disabled.”

    On this one, I agree with the Roanoke Times, which argues that the amendment’s flawed because it lacks “means testing.” In addition, this amendment “fall[s] into that deplorable class of legislation that serves the political needs of lawmakers in Richmond to the detriment of localities…support[ing] tax breaks for seniors and veterans without having to deal with the fallout:” a “sudden reduction in revenue” to localities,” the result of which likely will be “taxes must increase on everyone else.” Not smart at all.

    The second ballot question would amend the Constitution to ” require the General Assembly to provide a real property tax exemption for the principal residence of a veteran, or his or her surviving spouse, if the veteran has a 100 percent service-connected, permanent, and total disability.”

    I join the Roanoke Times in opposing this one as well, for many of the same reasons as the first one. I also agree with Waldo Jaquith, who writes, “I don’t think that the state has any business ordering localities to stop taxing some people…if the state wants to reduce taxes for veterans, they should reduce their own revenue, not localities’.

    Finally, the third ballot question would amend Section 8 of Article X of the Constitution of Virginia “to increase the permissible size of the Revenue Stabilization Fund (also known as the “rainy day fund”) from 10 percent to 15 percent of the Commonwealth’s average annual tax revenues derived from income and retail sales taxes for the preceding three fiscal years.”

    On this one, I again agree with Waldo Jaquith, who writes:

    …why not increase that cap so that, if it does look like it’ll be a good idea to save up more quickly, it’ll be possible to do that. On the other hand, why 15%? Why not 10%? Or 20%? Or 50%? Was there something wrong with 10%? I’d like to assume that there’s some logic behind these particular numbers, but much like “three-strikes” laws, I fear that there’s not.

    A poorly written, poorly reasoned amendment. I’m voting “no.”

    • No on the first two, yes on the third one.  

    • I’ve gone back and forth on #1, and have come away thinking that it’s just not good for the Commonwealth (common/wealth) as a whole.  

      I had already decided to vote against #2 and #3.  I really hate the fact that I, a mere voter and citizen, and put into the position of having to vote for or against a disabled veteran.  As Jaquith says, there are other ways to do this without having to hide behind voters, but evidently, our elected officials don’t have the political will to make that happen.

      And if someone made a credible case as to why we should raise the percentage of the Rainy Day Fund, I might buy into it, since I’m a big supporter of the Rainy Day Fund itself.  But with such massive cuts to Virginia’s most vulnerable (and often hidden) citizens this past year (especially in mental health), I’m not sure that raising by 50% even a promising program like this one is really the best use of our tax dollars.

    • sonofkenny

      #2 and #3 do not…

    • Teddy Goodson

      David Bulova, D-Fairfax, in his web site “Focus on Fairfax” gives an extended explanation of all three amendments, which he says passed both the House of Delegates and the Senate unanimously in the 2010 session. He advises voters to go to http://www.sbe.virginia.gov for more information. Given the comments above, I am quoting extensively from Delegate Bulova’s article:

      Local Control Over Property Tax Relief

      Under the existing Constitution, the General Assembly may give local governments the power to grant full or partial exemptions from real estate taxes to persons 65 years of age or older or for persons permanently or totally disabled when such taxes would impose an extraordinary burden in relation to income or financial worth.  Since I’ve been in office, the General Assembly has periodically debated the appropriate “cap” to qualify for real property tax relief.  Today, this is defined as a combined income of up to $50,000 or a net worth of $200,000.  A locality may grant relief below, but not above, this amount.  Of course, the problem is that what is reasonable in one part of Virginia isn’t necessarily so in another part.  

      The proposed amendment simply puts the authority to make these decisions at the local level.  Given the diversity of our Commonwealth, and the fact that any revenue loss from these decisions is only felt by the local government, this makes a lot of sense to me.

      Property Tax Exemption for Certain Veterans

      This proposed amendment would exempt any veteran, or his or her spouse, declared by the federal Department of Veterans Affairs to have “a one hundred percent service-connected, permanent, and total disability” from real estate taxes on their home.  Unlike the first proposal, which grants localities a new discretionary power, this amendment would mandate the exemption state-wide.  Based on information from Disabled American Veterans of Virginia, there are slightly more than 7,000 veterans who meet this definition in Virginia, of which about 4,200 own their own homes.  Helping these veterans to be able to afford to stay in their homes, or even purchase a home, is a small price to pay for their service.

      Increasing the Revenue Stabilization Fund

      The Revenue Stabilization Fund, which was put in the Constitution in 1992, allows the General Assembly to take a portion of revenue in good times and save it for difficult economic situations.  The amount that can be put in the fund is capped at 10 percent of Virginia’s average annual tax revenues from income and sales tax for the preceding three fiscal years.  

      While it is often called the “rainy day fund,” this is a bit of a misnomer.  The Revenue Stabilization Fund is not a slush fund and cannot be used to balance a new budget.  Rather, it can only be used mid-budget cycle when actual revenue is less than official revenue projections.  Because Virginia has a balanced budget requirement in the Constitution, the Revenue Stabilization Fund helps to soften the short-term blow when revenue unexpectedly falls.  However, it does not keep the General Assembly from having to make tough long-term decisions to balance the budget.

      What the most recent recession showed us was that our fund is not large enough to weather several years of progressively declining revenue.  In FY2007, the fund was approximately $1.7 billion.  Today, it stands at only $295 million.  The proposed amendment increases the cap from 10 percent to 15 percent.

      I have great respect for Delegate Bulova’s opinion. He’s a detail-oriented, judicious legislator, with an eagle eye for protecting and enhancing local government, and the for the pocketbooks of his constituents. I approve of his explanations, and I will be voting “Yes” on all three of these amendments.

    • notlarrysabato

      Was in May when parties were deciding positions to put on the sample ballots.

    • snolan

      This is silliness and a distraction…  The first two are about local taxation, and have no business even being in the state constitution.  The third does not need to be in the constitution either – though it is a state budget issue.

      Gah.

      I voted yes on all three though because they are tiny incremental improvements to a goofed up situation.  I’d rather have all the language removed entirely… but I don’t have that as a choice at all… so I do the best I can.

    • Virginia Conservative

      Although you and I no doubt disagree on a great many things, I also encourage voters to vote no on all three amendments when they go to the polls today.