This next Saturday morning will be my third and final informal office hours of the season. Stop on by from 9:00 to 11:00 a.m. for conversation and coffee at Main Street Bagel in the City of Fairfax. If you can't attend, but would like to discuss an issue, please don't hesitate to contact me and schedule an individual appointment.
Each of you will undoubtedly be reminded to vote at least a few times over the next day and a half! In addition to voting for our member of the House of Representatives, you will have a chance to vote on three proposed amendments to our Virginia Constitution. Unlike the United States Constitution, amendments to the Virginia Constitution are relatively frequent. Proposed amendments must pass the General Assembly twice, with an election in between, before going to the voters.
In an effort to help reduce voting lines (and the number of puzzled faces), the following is a run-down of the proposed amendments:
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.
All three proposed amendments passed both the House of Delegates and the Senate unanimously during the 2010 session. For more information, visit www.sbe.virginia.gov. As always, thank you for the opportunity to serve. I hope to see you this Saturday morning for coffee!