Virginia Statewide Ballot Issues, 2018

Seal of Virginia
Seal of Virginia

Article XII, Section 1, of the Constitution of Virginia establishes a process for amending the constitution. The state Senate or the House of Delegates proposes amendments and, after having been passed through both houses, they are then presented to the voters for approval. Once approved by the voters, the state constitution is amended as specified, and that change can only be reversed by repeating the amendment process.

Citizens of Virginia will be voting on two constitutional amendments in this year’s November election, each of which would change or add text to the Constitution of Virginia.

Question 1: Flooding Tax Amendment

To exempt certain properties from local property taxes, the Constitution of Virginia must be amended to permit that exemption, and then the Virginia General Assembly must pass legislation to enact it. Many such exemption authorities have been added to the state constitution in the past . . . five times since Off on a Tangent began making political endorsements.

This year, yet another such exemption is on the ballot. This one would allow for partial exemptions for properties subject to flooding if the owners of the property make substantial improvements to the property to mitigate future flooding.

As I said in 2016, the fact that we keep having to consider these types of amendments points to a structural problem with the Constitution of Virginia. State constitutions should provide a broad statement of governing principles and establish the structure of the state government. Day-to-day and year-to-year governance—like adding and removing tax exemptions—should happen through the normal legislative process.

Rather than adding yet another one-off exemption authority to the state constitution, we should modify the constitution to allow the General Assembly to create these kinds of exemptions on their own, subject to the usual checks and balances between the legislative houses, the governor, and the courts.

Turning to this amendment particularly, it seems to be designed to give local governments ways to encourage people in flood-prone areas to improve their properties. I wonder though, why should they need any more incentive than they already have? Improving flood-prone properties can lower insurance costs and, more importantly, reduce the likelihood of costly flood damage. Isn’t that reason enough?

Not everything is the government’s job. I endorse a NO vote on Virginia’s flooding tax amendment.

Question 2: Veteran Tax Amendment

As described in my endorsement for this year’s first statewide ballot question, the Constitution of Virginia must be amended to permit the exemption of certain properties from local property taxes, and then the Virginia General Assembly must pass legislation to enact that exemption.

One such exemption was added to the state constitution in 2010, which applied to veterans with a one-hundred percent service-connected, permanent, and total disability. It also applied to such a veteran’s surviving spouse, so long as they continued to occupy that same property after the veteran’s death. This amendment would change the existing exemption to allow a surviving spouse to continue claiming it after moving to a new primary residence.

This exemption exists to provide a benefit for disabled veterans and their families as a small “thank you” for their sacrifices. Allowing surviving spouses to claim the exemption only if they stayed in the same house always seemed like an arbitrary and unnecessary restriction, especially since a surviving spouse may need to move for financial, emotional, or other reasons soon after losing their loved one.

The exemption should follow the surviving spouse if they move. I endorse a YES vote on Virginia’s veteran tax amendment.

Scott Bradford is a writer and technologist who has been putting his opinions online since 1995. He believes in three inviolable human rights: life, liberty, and property. He is a Catholic Christian who worships the trinitarian God described in the Nicene Creed. Scott is a husband, nerd, pet lover, and AMC/Jeep enthusiast with a B.S. degree in public administration from George Mason University.