Disabled veterans explain tax break on Virginia ballot

Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- This election season, voters will decide if some disabled veterans should get a tax break.

The Constitution of Virginia generally mandates that all property be taxed unless an exception is specifically outlined.

If a majority of Virginians vote ‘yes’ on Constitutional Amendment #2, veterans who are fully compensated by the federal government for a total, permanent disability would be exempted from paying property taxes on one car or pickup truck. The tax break would also apply to former members of the Virginia National Guard who meet this definition.

Bob Cox risked his life to fight in the Vietnam War. David Cuff fought in The Gulf War. Today, both of these Virginia veterans are 100% disabled due to their military service, though they didn’t want to share details of their conditions.

Cox and Cuff help lead the Disabled American Veterans Department of Virginia. They said one of the main reasons the group pushed for the amendment in the first place was because of inconsistent tax policies. While some localities already offer forms of tax relief to disabled veterans, they both live in areas that don’t provide this benefit.

“People move from one place to another and all of a sudden they have to pay,” Cox said. “This was a way to bring fairness throughout the whole commonwealth.”

Cox said some veterans need expensive modifications to their cars to accommodate their disabilities, which may or may not be covered by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. He said a state tax break would give a much-needed cushion to those who are strapped with the extra expense.

In general, Cuff said the change could save veterans several hundred dollars a year depending on the value of their vehicle and where they live. He said that would make a big difference to families like his living on a fixed income.

“I don’t want to be disabled. I got a profession where I could go out and make a lot of money but due to my sickness, my illness, I’m not able to do it,” Cuff said. “Every little bit that the government gives me a break that I can keep is more for my family.”

Almost every member of the General Assembly voted in favor of the amendment, with just two Democrats and two Republicans voting against it in the House of Delegates. Those lawmakers were not immediately available for an interview on Monday.

Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center Senior Policy Associate Richard Auxier said he’s not opposed to the amendment but he added that voters should always carefully evaluate exemptions like this. He also noted that the possible tax break would impact localities as many are dealing with strained revenue streams from coronavirus restrictions.

“I don’t think any voter should be worried that doing this exemption is somehow going to hurt their local budgets. It’s probably not big enough,” Auxier said. “But it is something that should always be kept in mind that, when you’re providing these tax breaks, you have to make up the revenue somehow and it can build up overtime when you exempt so many people that may all be deserving.”

Kevin O’Holleran, spokesperson for House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, said in an email that the fiscal impact of the change is largely unclear because it would depend on how many 100% disabled veterans preside in each locality and what is already provided there in terms of tax relief.

According to the latest data from 2018, more than 26,000 disabled veterans would be eligible for the tax break statewide. The amendment would also allow their spouses to take advantage as long as the exemption is only used for one vehicle per eligible veteran.

If approved by voters, the exemption will apply to vehicles registered on or after January 1, 2021. The amendment does not allow veterans to be paid for taxes incurred before that date.

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