Tuesday, Nov. 6, voters in Virginia will be deciding on more than just Congressional candidates on Election Day. They will also be asked to consider two ballot measures proposing amendments to the Virginia Constitution.
These ballot measures would need to be passed by a simple majority of Virginia voters before the Constitution can be amended. The two measures would both amend Article X of the Virginia State Constitution dealing with taxation and finance. Both would allow localities to provide tax exemptions which are not within the normal scope of their delegated powers.
“Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, which is kind of a wonky term, but essentially that just means that the Virginia Legislature, the state Legislature, holds all the authority, and the only powers that localities hold are those that the Legislature delegates to them,” President of Virginia21 William Parada ’19 said.
The two measures will appear as the following on the ballot:
1. 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?
2. 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?
Unlike other states, Virginia has a lengthy process for the passing of constitutional amendments. Proposed amendments end up on the ballot via the state Legislature as legislatively referred constitutional amendments.
“The way in which amendments are adopted to the Constitution typically will be that two sessions of the general assembly have to approve putting the item on the ballot, and they have to do it in a way in which the two approvals are separated by a general election,” government professor John McGlennon said. “We are in the first year of a new legislative session, so that means that these two amendments had been approved by the previous House of Delegates. We had an election last November and now that House of Delegates and Senate have approved the amendment once again.”
Due to the fact that the Legislature is not allowed to advocate for the passage of these amendments and both have generated only a small of amount of debate, many voters are unaware that these measures will be appearing on the ballot. The Senate and House races have dominated recent coverage, leaving some voters uniformed about the questions they will encounter on their ballots.
Ballot measure one was proposed by Sen. Lynwood Lewis, who represents parts of the Eastern Shore and Norfolk — areas prone to significant flooding. The amendment would allow localities to decide for themselves whether tax exemptions should be given to homeowners who floodproof their homes.
“I think the idea here is to provide incentive for people to take action to protect their property against flooding in the future,” McGlennon said. “One of the things that may restrain some property owners from improving their property now, to maybe raise the height of the house, … if that has the effect of the raising the value of the house, that would might discourage them from making that investment because then they would be paying taxes on a higher value of the house.”
Some organizations have raised a number of environmental concerns around this ballot measure. Further development in flood-prone areas could have a negative environmental impact on coastal and wetland environments. The environmental nonprofit organization Northumberland Association for Progressive Stewardship released a statement urging Virginians to vote “no” on question one due to its environmental impacts.
“There is also the worry that when homeowners, for instance, construct barriers to divert floodwaters that it could impact neighboring houses and property and could divert the flooding onto their property which would worsen the flooding for them,” Parada said. “So there are many unintended consequences that could arise from this.”
The editorial page staff of Fredericksburg newspaper The Free Lance-Star wrote that this amendment would be “forcing other taxpayers to subsidize owners of coastal or other waterfront property:” in effect, forcing taxpayers to pay for at-risk waterfront properties. Still, supporters of the amendment see the measure as a positive relief for property owners with flood risks.
“The question is what would be the benefit to the public would be more broadly if local governments chose to exempt this property, and in some instances, we could say that it might have a positive effect on reducing the pollution that would result when flooding occurs,” McGlennon said. “So if you move a house up, some of the things that might be inundated in a flood would be out of reach.”
Ballot measure two is much less controversial. The question would allow spouses of permanently and totally disabled veterans to change their residence and still maintain the property tax exemption they receive. Question two was proposed by Del. Jason Miyares J.D. ’05 of Virginia’s 82nd District, which represents Virginia Beach.
“There was a constituent who was closing on a home, and she was basically being hit with a large property tax bill every month,” Miyares said. “… These are the individuals that have gone so far. It’s the least we can do for them.”
According to Miyares, the current status of the constitution doesn’t allow these spouses to change properties due to a draft mistake in the Legislature. In Virginia Beach, where there are many military spouses, Miyares’ constituents would receive a welcome relief from this restrictive constitutional rule if this measure passes.