Any Tax You Can Cut, I Can Cut Greater…

An interesting dynamic has developed in the Virginia governors race. The two major candidates, Republican Jerry Kilgore and Democrat Tim Kaine, are both presenting themselves as tax cutters by offering competing proposals to relieve homeowners’ property tax burdens. Property values have been skyrocketing in Virginia, especially here in NoVa, and homeowners’ property tax burdens have been going up correspondingly. Additionally, both candidates want to distance themselves from Governor Mark Warner, who last year passed a tax hike (since proven unnecessary by a huge “surprise” budget surplus) through the Republican-controlled legislature.

The Republican Kilgore proposed a state constitutional amendment that would cap increases in home assessment at 5 percent a year. This proposal would especially help NoVA residents, some of whom have seen their home assessments (and correspondingly, tax bills) double during the past five years. Kilgore’s proposal would require municipalities facing a budget crunch to either cut services or take the politically difficult route and increase the property tax rate.

Kaine wants to amend the state constitution to allow cities and county to exempt as much as 20 percent of a home’s value from property tax assessments. Kaine’s proposal is more flexible than Kilgore’s (municipalities are permitted, not required, to make the exemption), and therefore less likely to force painful cuts at the local level, but it is also less restrictive on residents’ tax burdens.

Taxes are a perennial issue in Virginia. Former Governor and GOP chair Jim Gilmore rode to office in 1997 on an anti-car tax bandwagon. Kilgore might be trying to do the same thing with property taxes.

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