By Lindsay Cates
Virginia voters approved the proposed tax-exemption amendment to the Virginia Constitution.
The amendment proposed by the Virginia General Assembly grants a property tax exemption for surviving spouses of soldiers killed in action. The exemption would eliminate the local tax on real property owned by the spouse, meaning land and any structures on the land.
Statewide, 88 percent of voters approved the amendment. The Rockbridge County results mirrored the statewide percentage, with 87 percent voting in favor of the amendment.
Earlier today at the polls some voters said they were aware the amendment would be on the ballot, while others had never heard of it before. After casting their ballots, most voters expressed that they thought the amendment was a great idea.
Just a few weeks ago, even an official with the Shenandoah Valley Veterans Center was unaware that the proposal was on the ballot. Once told of it, Executive Director Michael Deavers decided it was the right idea.
“It’s definitely a good thing,” Deavers said. “The spouses are the ones really giving everything, so why shouldn’t they be compensated in some way for that?”
According to The National Center for Veterans Analysis and Statistics, slightly more than 1,900 veterans live in Rockbridge County and veterans own one-third of the homes. Those figures do not include Lexington and Buena Vista.
The Virginia constitution already grants property tax exemption to a husband and wife when either one is a veteran with a permanent disability, and also for the surviving spouse of the veteran as long as he or she does not remarry.
A 2010 study done by Virginia Tech for the Wounded Warrior Program reported that Virginia has had more than 260,000 veterans who have served since 2001, the highest ratio of all 50 states. Virginia also ranks seventh among the states in total veteran population.
Deavers said the high numbers of veterans in Virginia might be part of the reason the legislature proposed the change.
“One-quarter of all active duty service members are located in the Hampton Roads area,” Deavers said. “There are also high populations of veterans in Richmond and Washington D.C.”
According to research done last year for a similar proposal, at least 10 states appear to offer property tax relief specifically for surviving spouses of soldiers killed in action, including Texas, Maryland, Florida, Georgia and Tennessee.
The amendment is an add-on to the current law, but area veterans say they would love for the General Assembly to consider taking the law even further in the future.
“Personally, I’d like to see that exemption extended even further to include veterans who have retired out of the military,” Deavers said. “But I’m not talking about those who have served just a few years. I’m talking about veterans who retired after serving 20 years or more.”
The amendment proposal was passed by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe. The amendment needed just a simple majority of Virginia voters to be approved.
Here is what voters saw on the ballot:
Question: Shall Section 6-A of Article X (Taxation and Finance) be amended to allow the General Assembly to exempt from taxation the real property of the surviving spouse of any member of the armed forces of the United States who was killed in action, where the surviving spouse occupies the real property as his or her principal place of residence and has not remarried?