Down the ballot items - VA Edition

Greetings, loyal minions. Your Maximum Leader suspects that unless you are living under a rock you’ve heard that this is an election year in the good ole US of A. This is a Federal election year, which means that people pay attention (sorta - since it is not a Presidential election year). Americans go to the polls, as the endless parade of chattering noggins on the TV tell us, to elect the whole House of Representatives, one third of the Senate, and whatever offices [fill in the name of your state] wants to elect.

Well… For those of you who don’t know, Virginia likes to do things a little differently. Your Maximum Leader likes it that way honestly. Sure Virginians will be going to the polls to elect their Congressmen, but we don’t fool around with electing our state government at the same time as those federal people. It sullies up the process says your Maximum Leader. Let’s keep the state and federal elections separate…


Though there are no candidates for state (and very few local) office on the ballot that doesn’t mean that we in Virginia aren’t going to get to vote on three different ballot measures. All three measures are Constitutional Amendments. While your Maximum Leader isn’t much on trying to do anything to the Federal Constitution, he’s all for changing the Commonwealth’s Constitution when you need to. State Constitutions are, after all, generally pretty detailed documents that do need revising with some regularity. (Indeed the current version of the Virginia Constitution dates back to 1976/7. It still contains the Declaration of Rights, written by George Mason back in 1776; but otherwise is a pretty modern document.)

So there are three Constitutional Amendments (revisions really) on the ballot. In this post your Maximum Leader will briefly describe each and tell you how he plans on voting on each of them. How many other blogs are providing this type of public service for you if you live in the Commonwealth of Virginia? Probably none, but your Maximum Leader is too lazy to find any that are.

Item 1: Should the Constitution be amended to allow local governments to establish their own income or financial worth limitations for purposes of granting property tax relief to those 65 or older or permanently disabled? As it stands, localities around the Commonwealth can already provide property tax exemptions for those 65 or older and permanently disabled if the the property tax creates an “extraordinary tax burden” on the individual. Now, in all honesty, your Maximum Leader is pretty sure that this is a semantic change. He cannot imagine that a local (city or county) government would give a tax exemption without considering the burden that property taxes play considering a person’s total income and/or financial situation. The key, in your Maximum Leader’s mind, is that “extraordinary” part. A person seeking a property tax exemption should have to prove that property taxes are an “extraordinary” burden considered in the context of that person’s ability to pay the tax. Your Maximum Leader is very leery of the idea that a local government could just establish a set of income/worth guidelines and promulgate them indicating that if you meet the criteria set then you would get a property tax exemption. Look, your Maximum Leader likes to pay as little in taxes as possible; but let’s be honest folks, police and fire protection are nice too. Schools are nice to have. Local parks and playgrounds are great. Your local government pays for a pile of stuff that everyone needs and uses and it pays for them with revenue from property taxes. Your Maximum Leader isn’t for letting people off the hook for paying those taxes without serious consideration. Your Maximum Leader will vote no on this one. The language is fine how it is written.

(NB: Your Maximum Leader has a big - BIG - hot button topic on the whole issue of property taxes. He had, a while back, some neighbors who were (then) around 40 and married. No kids. Dual (rather high) income. No pets. These two were pretty cool people all in all; but twice a year (around property tax payment time) they bitched and moaned and complained to high heaven that they should get a tax break because they didn’t produce any offspring that would need public schooling and they were sick of paying for schools. One day your Maximum Leader had had enough of that and he asked them if they’d been robbed recently. They hadn’t. Then he asked if they’d been assulted or their house broken into. They hadn’t. After a line of similar questions your Maximum Leader asked if they felt that they didn’t need the police or fire departments since they hadn’t used those services. They told your Maximum Leader that of course they needed those departments. Then your Maximum Leader asked if they’d been grocery shopping recently and did a cashier check them out? Of course. Had they bought something at the mall and did someone help them there? Sure thing. Did they have doctors they saw regularly? Yup. Your Maximum Leader reminded this couple that all those people (at various levels of skill) were products of schools, as they were too. Without schools none of the support that made their comfortable lives possible would exist. So they should just shut the hell up and pay their friggin tax and hope that one day they didn’t have to have some undereducated hospice worker change their diapers wrong because they couldn’t read the instructions. After that day your Maximum Leader never had a schools/taxes discussion with them again…)

Item 2: Should the Constitution be amended to allow the General Assembly the power to grant permenantly & totally disabled veterans (disabled in the course of duty) or their surviving spouses (who do not remarry) a property tax exemption on their primary residence? Unlike the last question, your Maximum Leader is all for this one. Veterans don’t get all that they deserve for the role they play in preserving our Republic. In your Maximum Leader’s opinion, if a person volunteered for duty in the armed forces and was permenantly and totally disabled in the line of duty; then they’ve earned a property tax exemption regardless of their age, ability to pay, or other condition. Sure that seems like a big blanket exception to the “everybody who can pay should pay” position espoused just a few short lines ago; but it is one that is entirely justified in granting. Although your Maximum Leader can’t cite statistics, he believes (and is willing to look at the stats and revise his opinion in light of what he’ll learn) that most totally disabled Vets are likely youngish enlisted personnel who are serving in the most dangerous jobs in the military. (NB: the most dangerous job in the US, as your Maximum Leader recalls, is the job of an explosives disposal technician in the Army, followed closely by the deck-hands who work on aircraft carriers checking to make sure that aircraft landing gear are properly fitted in the catapults that launch the planes off the deck.) Your Maximum Leader is all for giving a vet who lost both arms disarming a roadside bomb in Iraq or Afghanistan when he was 21 years old a break when it comes to property taxes. Your Maximum Leader will vote yes on this one.

Item 3: Should the Constitution be amended to allow the Commonwealth’s “revenue stabilization fund” (aka: rainy day fund) be 15% of annual revenue? Currently the maximum size of the “rainy day” fund is 10% of annual state revenue. Your Maximum Leader is all for raising this maximum to 15% of annual revenue. Just like your Maximum Leader is in favor of banks keeping larger reserves, he is for the Commonwealth being able to keep a larger reserve. Frankly, your Maximum Leader is happy that the Commonwealth even has a rainy day fund. Well… In all honesty we don’t really have one exactly right now because of the crappy economy overall; but we did have one for a long long time and likely will have one again pretty soon. Your Maximum Leader is voting yes on this item.

So there you have it. Of course, if you are like the majority of the readers of this blog and not a resident of the great Commonwealth of Virginia your Maximum Leader is sorry to have wasted your time on this post. If you are a resident and hadn’t thought of the ballot measures, or were unaware of them; your Maximum Leader hopes to have done you a little service in the political education department.

Carry on.

Kevin Kim said:

You’ve done me a service. Thanks, and Happy Trafalgar Day.

Polymath said:

I was about to write something similar, but you have saved me the time. Consider yourself linked. Now I’m the lazy one.

Francis E. Dec said:

Hey, ML. I don’t mean to be a wet blanket. I’ve been lurking for 7(?) years. But I just wanted to let you know… Norton 360 Security is screaming that your webpage is all eat up with ‘Fake AV Software.’ I’m not having any adverse reactions, but I wanted to let you know.

Mageen in Old Virginny said:

I am for all three of these measures. The one you don’t much care for would be a godsend to us old geezers who will have to keep working six months after we are dead just to pay the taxes on our residences and we are not just talking mega-mansions here but very simple homely abodes, including apartments we might be able to purchase at a retirement community offering an Alzheimer’s center. The older we are the less likely we are to have things like 401k’s etc. because when we started working they didn’t exist and when they did pop up we were trying to feed and clothe etc. a few kids and get this! The financial advisors who ran these things told us we just didn’t quality because we didn’t have the money - their chosen amount for how much we would need to live beyond a certain date. In short, we got skint! The value of our humble savings also ain’t so valuable anymore! Consider yourself woohoo lucky!

Hello Mageen. Thanks for your comment. I will stick to my guns on the first issue I described. I completely understand why it has appeal to you. I wouldn’t expect anyone to vote against a measure that stands to benefit them so directly. But I can’t bring myself to support it. If the taxes in a jurisdiction are so high as to make themselves an extraordinary burden to so many; then giving exemptions to a designated portion of the population will only make the burden worse on those who continue to pay the taxes. It is likely that the jurisdiction ought to consider other ways of raising revenue, or start cutting services that it provides. On the flip side of things, (and I don’t mean to sound glib) you as the tax payer will have to evaluate if living in a jurisdiction with such high taxes on a fixed income is a sensible long-term plan. I maintain that if the tax payer feels that property taxes are an extraordinary burden to them, then they can use the existing system of redress to get an exemption. It isn’t that exemptions aren’t given, they are; it is that there is not a one-size fits all standard.

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