Editorial: What’s in Your Ballot?

Election Day is approaching fast. With the many campaign signs that seem to spring up overnight in highway medians and front yards most people know that there are three candidates running for the US House of Representatives 10th District seat. (By the way, is it really necessary to have 30 signs for a single candidate all at one intersection?)

However, this November’s ballot will also include three proposed amendments to the Constitution of Virginia that have not been widely publicized or debated but could make a difference in your tax bill. How will you vote on these three important issues?

Ballot Question 1: Shall Section 6 of Article X of the Constitution of Virginia be amended to authorize legislation that will permit localities to establish their own income or financial worth limitations for purposes of granting property tax relief for homeowners not less than 65 years of age or permanently and totally disabled?

Hmmmmm…. Hard to vote against our elderly or challenged neighbors. But what’s up with the phrase “permit localities to establish their own income or financial worth limitations”? What does that phrase mean from a fiscal point of view? If one segment of society gets a tax break then who picks up the balance of the tax bill?

Ballot Question 2: Shall the Constitution be amended to require the General Assembly to provide a real property tax exemption for the principal residence of a veteran, or his or her surviving spouse, if the veteran has a 100 percent service-connected, permanent, and total disability?

Hmmmmm…. As with the first ballot question, it’s pretty hard to vote against military veterans. And “a 100 percent service-connected, permanent, and total disability” makes it clear that the benefit will help someone who sacrificed for the United States. But everyone’s struggling right now. Should this amendment be “amended” to include a statement that the General Assembly will find and cut offsetting amounts from other places in the budget to fund this tax break? Or is this amendment important enough to justify an overall increase in our tax bill?

Ballot Question 3: Shall Section 8 or Article X of the Constitution of Virginia be amended to increase the permissible size of the Revenue Stabilization Fund (also known as the “rainy day fund”) from 10 percent to 15 percent of the Commonwealth’s average annual tax revenues derived from income and retail sales taxes for the preceding three fiscal years?

Hmmmmm…. Seems like this amendment requires a full analysis of Virginia’s financial condition before pulling the voting lever. “Revenue Stabilization” is an interesting term. (By the way, “revenue” to the General Assembly is euphemism for “taxes” to the rest of us.) But here’s the challenge if you strive to be an informed voter: Exactly what is the Commonwealth’s average annual tax revenues derived from income and retail sales taxes for the preceding three fiscal years and how much will a 5% increase mean in terms of additional taxes out of your pocket? And while we’re on the subject, what will the “rainy day fund” be spent for given that there are   budget shortfalls just about everywhere you look in Richmond?

It’s probably fair to say that the few people that will turn out to vote in the General Election on Tuesday, November 2nd in Clarke County will not have thought much about these three constitutional amendments, let alone have much of a notion about “the Commonwealth’s average annual tax revenues derived from income and retail sales taxes for the preceding three fiscal years”.

Are any or all of the constitutional amendments being offered this time around “good” or “bad”? Well, maybe, but it’s hard to be sure given the limited amount of information being offered. All three amendments are important because they change the amount that you would pay in taxes.

Here are a few questions that aren’t on the ballot but may deserve consideration and comment;

Has the Commonwealth of Virginia gotten to a point where there is nothing left to cut in the budget or are there still areas with excess or unnecessary spending?

Are there any Commonwealth of Virginia budget areas that you believe deserve funding increases this year? If so, how should the budget increases be funded?

Do you believe that ballot questions, like the three included in this year’s ballot, are presented in a way that provides voters with enough information to make informed decisions?

These are just a few of the questions that we had after looking over this year’s ballot. Are there other questions that need to be asked?

What do you think?

Comments

  1. Bi-winger says:

    Having lived in a “dillon” state all my life, I welcome any power that the state may sede to the localities, but after opening this “gift”, wrapped in senior citizen and patriotic paper,is this an attempt to further gut public education?

  2. Ross bishop says:

    These amendments have gone through two complete sessions of the state legislature, you have had years to consider them, and all you can do is offer a few comments? We rely on the press to look into matters like this. We have neither the time nor the expertise. These amendments have not been publicized much, (another failing), so I guess quite a few people will vote in ignorance. Pity. Something about an informed press leading to an informed electorate. . . .

  3. J McCarthy says:

    I have looked everywhere for information regarding these three constitutional amendment questions — on my county’s website, on the state’s website, in local newspapers, and NADA!!!! This is the ONLY snippet of press that says anything at all about these proposals. I’m voting no on all three, and emailing Virginia and Fairfax County to let them know what a poor job they have done helping to educate the voters. I blame the legislators, not the press. THEY put this stuff on the ballot! Where did it originate? What are the pros and cons? HELP!! 🙂

  4. A vote on 1 and 2 should be an easy YES. Why not support these two disadvantaged groups. These amendments will all pass with ease anyway.

    • Winston, my first impression was to feel the same as you, but the editorial brings up a valid point. What does “permit localities to establish their own income or financial worth limitations” mean and what will the ramifications of that be in the years to come? It seems to me that these amendments are carefully crafted to lead one to believe one would be unpatriotic not to vote yes. In truth, nothing in government ever seems to be that simple, nor without some untold motive. The fact that none of these issues has been tackled by the press worries me. Count on a NO from me until I get a better explanation. It’s easy to pass one of these, but darned hard to repeal one. – My two cents.

      • Jim,

        As far as amendment 2, the Veteran Amendment, is really limited in scope. There are only about 7500 Veterans that are 100% permanent and total disabled in the entire state of Virginia. Of that total, it is estimated about only 4000 own homes. I see that as a very, very small amount of individuals impacted. This amendment would be mandatory and localities would have to implement it. To me, that is such a small sacrifice for individuals who have fought for our freedoms.

        The over 65 amendment (#1) allows the counties to formulate their own criteria, which is more open to interpretation. It would also impact many thousands of individuals. However, the older members of our community deserve are support as well.

  5. I agree with the idea on recognizing and exempting 100% disabled veterans from property taxes. However, I also feel the same way about our Police Officers and Fire Fighters who were 100% disabled in the line of duty. They risk their lives and protect us everyday. I have personal empathy for anyone who struggles through the hardships of life with a 100% disability even those who are not part of these groups. If we grant the exemption it should be expanded to include all who are 100% disabled and not apply to one specific group.

  6. techwreck says:

    Thanks to the Daily News for one of the few editorials on the proposed Amendments we must vote on today. No thanks to the General Assembly for the lack of information regarding the reasoning behind these proposed amendments.

    So our legislators wants to take more money out of a weak economy to fund two giveaways for votes and an increase in a slush fund. No thanks.

    The two tax breaks might be manageable in good times, but make no sense now. They are a tax increase in the middle of a recession.

    A slush fund, I mean a “Revenue Stabilization Fund” should be increased in good times to provide funds for dips in the economy. These are not “good times”, and the increase in the fund would require a tax increase. Our economy doesn’t need this tax increase.