With the country focused on midterm congressional elections, don’t forget that Virginia has two constitutional amendments on the ballot tomorrow as well, to be decided by referendum. The first question is:
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?
Virginia’s Department of Elections explains the choice this way:
The proposed amendment would authorize the General Assembly to allow localities to provide a partial tax exemption for real property that is subject to recurrent flooding, if improvements have been made on the property to address flooding. The General Assembly and participating localities would be allowed to place restrictions or conditions on qualification for the tax exemption.
A “yes” vote will authorize the General Assembly to allow localities to provide a partial tax exemption for real property that is subject to recurrent flooding, if improvements have been made on the property to address flooding.
A “no” vote will not allow such a tax exemption.
This proposal would be an exception to Virginia’s general constitutional rule that private property is to be taxed at a rate based on its market value. Although it may bring to many voters’ minds the hurricane-related flooding that deluged many parts of the commonwealth this year, journalist Peter Galuszka argues in the Washington Post that its real beneficiaries are wealthy waterfront homeowners on the Eastern shore:
The idea of the amendment is to reward waterfront homeowners if they try to take corrective measures that should have been done when the house was built. It is a new kind of welfare for the rich, albeit an indirect one. And, if you get a break on your $2 million beach house, someone else is going to have to make up the difference in property taxes.
Opponents also say that the tax exemption encourages further development of flood-prone land and may incentivize “improvements” that redirect water in irresponsible ways. But supporters say that the amendment simply gives localities discretion to address flooding risks as their particular jurisdiction requires; it doesn’t impose any automatic exemption.
The second question is:
Shall the real property tax exemption for a primary residence that is currently provided to the surviving spouses of veterans who had a one hundred 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?
This proposal closes a loophole in an existing exemption. Currently, disabled servicemembers are entitled to a property tax exemption for their primary residence. Surviving spouses of deceased servicemembers can also claim the exemption if they continue to use the property as their primary residence. This amendment would let the surviving spouse move to a different primary residence and still claim the exemption. It has widespread support as a more complete recognition of the sacrifice made by military families.