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Kaine Urges 20% Exemption To Give Va. Homeowners Relief

The Kaine campaign's Web site has posted a calculator that allows homeowners to figure out how much they could benefit.

Before anyone can save a penny through the exemption, however, the proposal must be passed as a constitutional amendment, which would require at least three years plus a referendum.

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.

_____Virginia Government_____
Kaine Kicks Off Campaign for Governor (The Washington Post, Mar 16, 2005)
A Spiritual Search Led To Political Foundation (The Washington Post, Mar 16, 2005)
Kaine to Launch Gubernatorial Run Today (The Washington Post, Mar 16, 2005)
Delegates Will Take GOP Case To Voters (The Washington Post, Mar 13, 2005)
Full Report

Some Northern Virginia politicians seemed inclined to enact such a tax exemption if it becomes legal.

The virtue of the proposal, from their point of view, is that it focuses tax relief on homeowners.

Most governments in Northern Virginia are proposing to cut tax rates in the face of rising home values. But those tax rate cuts also benefit the owners of commercial and industrial properties.

The exemption "would allow us to target the homeowners for tax relief," said Fairfax Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerald E. Connolly (D). "If we had had this, I'm confident that we would have used it this year."

Asked if he was worried about losing money to the tax break, Connolly noted that the county is already moving toward a 10-cent real estate tax reduction.

"Virtually all our sources of revenue are growing," he said.

What's unclear is exactly which homeowners should be eligible.

Some tax experts say that such an exemption should target low- or middle-income families and that a $10 million home in McLean should not have its tax liability reduced by 20 percent.

Others noted that even if the 20 percent exemption is adopted, tax bills could still rise. "The real rub is that it's no guarantee that tax bills will fall," said David Brunori, contributing editor to State Tax Notes magazine. "Local governments could enact the exemption but raise rates and keep the burden the same. They might not have the guts to do that, but they could."

He was skeptical as well about any state pledge to help local governments pay their bills, noting that, "when tough times hit, one of the first things cut is aid to local governments."

Even with those caveats, however, Brunori acknowledged the popularity of homeowner tax relief proposals. Many people feel that "some tax relief is better than no tax relief," he said.

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