Constitutional Amendments on the Ballot

There is only one office up for election on the ballot this year, and you should vote for Jeff Barnett on Tuesday, November 2nd. But there’s more to vote on than that office. On the ballot this year are three proposed Amendments to the Virginia Constitution, and a school bond issue.

The proposed Constitutional Amendments are as follows:

Proposed Constitutional Amendments (Statewide Ballot Questions)

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?

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?

Question 3:  Shall Section 8 of 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? –

And the School Bond question is:

School Bonds (Loudoun County Ballot Question)

Question: Shall the County of Loudoun, Virginia contract a debt and issue its general obligation capital improvement bonds in the maximum amount of $27,820,000 to finance, in whole or in part, the cost to design, construct and equip the new Leesburg Area Elementary School (ES-15)?

Follow below the jump for some explanation of what the voters of Loudoun are being asked to approve of in these referendums.The first two constitutional amendments are geared at allowing localities (Counties, Cities, Towns) more freedom to manage their taxing structure. Under the Dillon Rule, localities need specific state dispensation to do, well, anything. These Amendments give localities that dispensation to exempt certain groups (disabled veterans, seniors on small fixed incomes) from paying local property taxes.

Here is the explanation from the state of the first of the Amendments, which explains the logic behind the first two Amendments:

Present Law

Under the Constitution, the General Assembly may give localities the power to grant full or partial exemptions from real estate taxes to persons 65 years of age or older or for persons permanently and totally disabled. The exemption applies to owner- occupied property used as the sole dwelling of such persons. The exemption is currently available only to such persons who bear “an extraordinary tax burden” in relation to their income and financial worth.

Proposed Amendment

The proposed amendment (i) removes the requirement that tax exemptions are available only to such persons who bear “an extraordinary tax burden,” and (ii) gives the General Assembly authority to permit localities to determine their own income or financial worth limitations for tax exemptions for persons 65 years of age or older or for persons permanently and totally disabled.

The third Amendment grants more freedom to the Assembly to save money within the budget for the future. The Constitution requires the state budget to be balanced. That means that the Assembly must have explicit authority to not spend all the money it has every two years (since we have a biannual budget cycle). If the Assembly didn’t spend all the money it got, the budget wouldn’t be balanced! The “rainy day fund” provides a way for the Assembly to carry surplus budget money over from budget cycle to budget cycle while keeping the budget balanced under the Constitution.

Right now, the rainy day fund is limited to 10% of the budget. The third Amendment on the ballot would allow the Assembly to increase that to 15% of the budget.

The school bond question is one which is often confused and misunderstood. Voting “yes” on the Bond question does not give the County permission to issue bonds. The county inherently has the authority to issue bonds, regardless of whether or not they put it to a voter referendum. The ballot question on bonds is necessary for the County to issue bonds at the lowest possible interest rates. Thus, voting “yes” on the bond question allows the County to get the most favorable interest rates on the bonds, which saves us money on interest payments.

If you vote “yes” on the school bonds, you are basically voting to avoid having to pay more taxes to pay higher interest on bonds in the future. Voting yes is a very good idea.  

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