Constitutional amendments on ballot deal with tax breaks for military families, homeowners in flood-prone areas

Voters in Virginia will also have two constitutional amendments on their ballot. (Source:...
Voters in Virginia will also have two constitutional amendments on their ballot. (Source: Virginia Mercury)
Published: Nov. 1, 2018 at 11:14 AM EDT
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It’s not just candidates on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Voters will be also asked to decide if they want to amend the state Constitution to allow for tax exemptions affecting spouses of veterans and homeowners in flood-prone areas, Virginia Mercury reports.

Both proposed amendments would give localities the option to extend certain tax breaks to some homeowners. That requires changes to the Constitution, which says “except as otherwise provided in this Constitution, the following property and no other shall be exempt from taxation, state and local, including inheritance taxes.

“I wish there was a quicker legislative fix,” said Del. Jason Miyares, R- Virginia Beach, who carried the legislation to get one of the amendments on the ballot.

Amending Virginia’s Constitution is a lengthy process. The proposal has to pass both chambers of the General Assembly, then there must be an election.

After the election, the same proposal has to pass the General Assembly again and then it is put up for a statewide vote.

Alternatively, two-thirds of each chamber could agree to call a constitutional convention. The last complete revision to the Constitution came in 1971 and resulted in changes to voting requirements, the education system and added an anti-discrimination clause, incorporating the gains of the Civil Rights movement that ended many of the segregation and Jim Crow-era voting restrictions enshrined in the 1902 constitution.

Here’s information on both constitutional amendments on this year’s ballot:

Amendment proposal from Del. Jason Miyares, R-Virginia Beach:

Ballot question: Shall the real property tax exemption for a primary residence that is currently provided to the surviving spouses of veterans who had a 100 percent service-connected, permanent and total disability be amended to allow the surviving spouse to move to a different primary residence and still claim the exemption?

In one week, Miyares, a lawyer in Virginia Beach, met with two people who were about to close on a new home and were surprised by the addition of property taxes.

Both of those potential clients had spouses who were disabled veterans who had died. They had been exempt from real property taxes — until they decided to move.

In the current state Constitution, spouses of veterans with disabilities who have died receive a full property tax exemption on the home they live in. But it doesn’t apply if the spouse decides to move.

“This was a little bit of a loophole,” Miyares said. “This may seem small, but people have quit jobs, haven’t been able to work because they’re caregivers now, and then you’re told you have to pay a property tax bill.”

Miyares, whose entire district is in Virginia Beach, volunteers with the Welcome Home Initiative which supports veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. He said families that have veterans with disabilities are often financially strapped and the property tax exemption helps out in a tough situation.

With much of Virginia’s military population concentrated in Hampton Roads, Miyares said he represents “an area that probably has seen more of the scars of the war on terror than other areas,” Miyares said.

“I think we’re in a strong position for it to pass,” he said. “I think the symbolic impact is huge.”

Amendment proposal from State Sen. Lynnwood Lewis, D-Accomac:

Ballot question: Should a county, city, or town be authorized to provide a partial tax exemption for real property that is subject to recurrent flooding, if flooding resiliency improvements have been made on the property?

For some homeowners who live in coastal Virginia, the only way to keep their property safe from rising water is by taking on expensive projects, like raising building elevation, filling in basements, installing flood openings or refinishing their home with flood-resistant material.

A constitutional amendment from Lewis wants to help those property owners by giving them a partial break on property taxes.

“You’re trying to provide incentives to property owners to do what they need to do on their properties,” he said.

His amendment doesn’t require localities to give homeowners a break, it just allows local governments to do it.

There are a number of Virginians who already qualify for property tax exemptions that localities have the option of granting, though this would be the first related to flooding.

Lewis’ district, which includes parts of Norfolk, Virginia Beach and parts of Mathews County and the Eastern Shore, is seriously threatened by sea-level rise and climate change, the senator said.

“Sometimes these little steps are just part of a larger effort to help our region deal with what’s going to be an increasingly significant problem,” Lewis said.

Water levels are changing, storms are getting more frequent and severe and there’s been frequent tidal flooding, which can cause problems even on clear days.

To help address some of those problems, Gov. Ralph Northam appointed the first special assistant to the governor for coastal adaptation and protection this year.

Lewis said he hasn’t gotten much feedback on his proposed amendment, but he’s found people are supportive in his district.

The Virginia Mercury is a new, nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.