Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine unveiled a homeowner tax relief plan yesterday as one of the cornerstones of his Democratic gubernatorial campaign, calling for a state constitutional amendment to allow local governments to exempt as much as 20 percent of a home's value from real estate taxes.
The political appeal of the plan is likely to be strong in much of Northern Virginia, where tax bills have doubled for some homeowners in the past five years.
Lt. Gov. Timothy Kaine (D) of Virginia spoke to residents of a Springfield retirement complex about traffic and taxes.
(Gerald Martineau -- The Washington Post)
Campaign Target: Tax Relief|
These are highlights of the tax relief plan and associated policies announced yesterday by Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, Democratic candidate for governor.
Homestead exemption: Proposed a state constitutional amendment to allow localities to exempt up to 20 percent of a farm's or home's assessment from the homeowner's tax.
Additions and rehabilitations: Proposed a real estate tax abatement program similar to one he backed as a council member and mayor in Richmond. That abatement exempted additions and renovations from taxes for 15 years.
Public school assistance: Proposed to fully fund the state's share of K-12 education, which he said would reduce pressure to increase local real estate taxes.
Unfunded mandates: Pledged to veto any bill that would have a fiscal impact on local governments unless the legislature also provides the funds to implement the legislation.
"I want to fight to protect homeowners," Kaine said in a conference call with reporters. "I think we've come up with a meaningful way to address a huge issue."
If enacted in full, the homestead exemption could save the owner of a typical home in Northern Virginia -- where the average home value is more than $400,000 -- roughly $800 a year.
But the amendment's exact effects on tax bills could not be calculated until local governments decide on the amount of the exemption and who would be eligible for it.
Kaine's focus on taxes echoes the themes of the last two successful campaigns for the state's highest office: Gov. Mark R. Warner (D) presented himself as a fiscal conservative, and former governor James S. Gilmore III (R) rode his promise to cut the car tax to victory.
If enacted by the state and adopted by local governments, the homestead exemption would reduce the tax liability of some or all homeowners while shifting some of the real estate tax burden onto the owners of commercial and industrial properties, who would not be eligible for the tax break.
To make up the money that local governments would likely forgo in giving such a tax break, Kaine called for the state to provide more money to schools, which are typically the single largest item in a local government's budget. The state has regularly fallen short of its self-imposed obligation to help local governments pay for education.
He also pledged to veto any proposed state law that would cost local governments money and not reimburse them.
Kaine's plan drew scorn from the campaign of Republican rival Jerry W. Kilgore, the former attorney general.
"Tim Kaine saying he's going to cut your taxes is like Wile E. Coyote saying he's going to stop chasing the Roadrunner," said Kilgore spokesman Tim Murtaugh, noting that the tax relief measure relies on local governments. "His 20 percent exemption is completely and totally optional. This plan is a farce."
Murtaugh would not say whether Kilgore supports, as Kaine does, fully funding the state's commitments to schools, saying only that "we support education spending."
Political analysts said Kaine's move was sound strategy.
"Virginia is on the verge of a property tax revolt in many localities, and it's smart politically to get out in front of the movement," said Robert D. Holsworth, a political science professor at Virginia Commonwealth University. "On the other hand, there are going to be a lot of questions raised about the nature of the solution."