Del. Viola O. Baskerville, a Democratic candidate for lieutenant governor, unveiled Wednesday the 2005 campaign's latest plan for homeowner tax relief, offering local governments the right to expand tax exemptions for senior citizens and the disabled.
The two major candidates for governor, Republican Jerry W. Kilgore and Democratic Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, have made real estate taxes central in their platforms, offering differing plans to address tax bills that are rising so fast that they have angered homeowners across the commonwealth.
Baskerville made waves in Democratic circles six weeks ago when she criticized Kaine's plan, which would allow local governments to exempt as much as 20 percent of a home's value from real estate taxes. She called it "a gimmick." Baskerville, who, like Kaine, is from Richmond, also said she disagrees with the plan outlined by Kilgore, which would limit increases in home assessments to 5 percent a year.
Baskerville is proposing her own solution, which would aim relief at the people and businesses she says need it most. Her plan, among other things, would allow Virginia cities and counties to raise the exemption to elderly and disabled homeowners whose annual incomes are less than $75,000 and whose net worth is less than $350,000. The exemptions could start as soon as next year, she said.
The central proposals by Kaine and Kilgore would require amendments to the state constitution, which must be passed by two separate legislatures and win a statewide referendum. They could not go into effect until 2009 at the earliest.
Local governments generally are allowed to offer real estate tax exemptions to seniors and disabled residents making less than $50,000 and with assets of less than $200,000, although the income levels for an exemption are higher in Northern Virginia.
"This addresses the immediate needs of the most vulnerable demographic in the commonwealth," Baskerville said. "This can be done in the next session and provide relief to those who need it most before the next tax bills come due, while proposals to amend the constitution are still being debated."
Baskerville's Democratic rivals for the nomination in the June 14 primary branded the plan superficial and said it would accomplish little. They said she was looking to mend fences with Kaine's campaign and use some of Kaine's initiatives in her plan.
"It sounds like she's trying to dig herself out of a hole," said former congresswoman Leslie L. Byrne of Fairfax, who said she fully supported Kaine's homeowner tax initiative. "Then the question is how do you provide relief to those who aren't seniors or disabled?"
Del. J. Chapman Petersen (Fairfax) said Baskerville's plan did not get to the core of what is troubling many homeowners. "All it does is tinker around the edges," he said. "I'd call this tax relief light. For the overwhelming majority of Virginia homeowners, it will mean nothing."
A spokesman for state Sen. Phillip P. Puckett (D-Russell) said the candidate supports Kaine's plan.
In an interview, Baskerville continued to take issue with the core of Kaine's homeowner tax plan.
"The real concern isn't whether people need tax relief. They do." she said. "But there has to be more conversation about tax reform that looks at which services localities can afford, what services the state should provide and how we get there. A proposal with a constitutional amendment, I think, doesn't allow us to have that full and in-depth conversation."
A spokeswoman for Kaine said the candidate welcomed Baskerville's ideas and downplayed the delegate's criticism.
"All four candidates have acknowledged this is an important issue, and they've acknowledged that something has to be done about it," said Delacey Skinner, the press secretary. "We are looking forward to whoever wins being a part of the ticket, and we trust they'll be behind our plan."
Baskerville's announcement came as Kilgore, a former attorney general, released more details of his own real estate tax plan, underscoring the potency of the property tax relief theme.
Kilgore said that while lawmakers work on passing his proposed constitutional amendment, courts should give preference to property owners when they appeal assessment increases greater than 20 percent.
Staff writer Michael D. Shear contributed to this report.