Update on Constitutional amendments

January 24, 2019

VACo opposes Constitutional amendments that would expand current mandatory real property tax exemptions to additional qualifying individuals and to new types of property were heard in the House and Senate earlier this week.  VACo pointed out that the current mandatory real property tax exemptions – for disabled veterans and their surviving spouses and for the surviving spouses of servicemembers who are killed in action – have been a strain on local finances, costing localities more than $50 million statewide in 2018.

In the House, Constitutional amendments have been assigned to the Privileges and Elections Committee’s Subcommittee #4, which is hearing all amendments before deciding on a limited number to advance to the full committee, so as not to generate a lengthy ballot at the November 2020 election, when any Constitutional amendments approved in both the 2019 and 2020 sessions would go before the voters.  The subcommittee heard a series of amendments on Monday afternoon, including HJ 657 (Pogge) and HJ 676 (Filler-Corn).  HJ 657 would expand the existing mandatory real property tax exemption for the surviving spouses of disabled veterans to apply in cases in which the veteran died prior to January 1, 2011.  Currently, the exemption applies in cases in which the veteran died after that date.  HJ 676 would mandate a personal property tax exemption for a motor vehicle owned by a veteran of the U.S. armed forces or the Virginia National Guard who has a 100 percent service-connected, permanent disability.  Currently, localities have the authority to provide for taxation of a motor vehicle owned by a veteran with certain disabilities at a lower rate or to provide a full exemption, at local option.  No votes were taken at the hearing, but some subcommittee members expressed interest in enacting the measures as local options.

SJ 278 (Reeves), the companion measure to HJ 676, relating to personal property tax exemptions, was heard in Senate Privileges and Elections Committee on Tuesday afternoon and reported unanimously with one abstention.  Senator John Cosgrove, who sits on the committee, encouraged members to help find a way to mitigate the effects of mandatory property tax exemptions on local budgets.

Other Constitutional amendments of interest to localities that were heard this week include HJ 615 (Cole), which would require that the General Assembly and localities in which the governing body is elected from districts set up independent redistricting commissions, and HJ 591 (Cole), which would allow the General Assembly to make technical adjustments to legislative districts after the completion of decennial redistricting.  VACo supports HJ 591 to address split precincts and spoke in favor of the measure.

VACo Contact:  Katie Boyle

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