Editorial – Missed chance to ease property tax burden

Published 6:49 pm Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Gov. Glenn Youngkin wielded his veto pen wisely in many cases after an active 2024 session of the Virginia General Assembly, but he missed a big opportunity to ease the real estate tax burden for homeowners in growing communities like Isle of Wight.

Youngkin nixed a bill that would have let communities levy a 1% sales tax for school construction if their voters passed a referendum to do so. Government by public referendum is rarely the answer in a democratic republic, but it’s a fair way, in our view, to let citizens decide their preferred way of paying for large, essential projects such as new school buildings.   

Current state law on the topic is an exercise in contradiction.

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Nine Virginia localities – Charlotte, Gloucester, Halifax, Henry, Mecklenburg, Northampton, Patrick and Pittsylvania counties and the city of Danville – are afforded the option of raising their sales under existing law. The other 124? Tough luck.

Both the state House of Delegates and state Senate, after years of unsuccessful legislation, gave strong bipartisan support this year to expanding the option to all localities. Youngkin vetoed the legislation, saying it “could result in a nearly $1.5 billion a year tax increase on Virginians.”

He may be right, but the problem is that local governments are still going to raise taxes when new schools must be built. And when they do, the burden will fall entirely on property owners through higher real estate and personal property taxes, rather than shared by those who rent their homes and by commuters and visitors who use local services such as roads and law enforcement. 

The Senate’s 25-15 override vote fell two short of the 27 needed to pass, our Stephen Faleski reports on this week’s front page. Sens. Todd Pillion, R-Abingdon, and J.D. “Danny” Diggs, R-Yorktown, who’d each supported SB 14 in February, this time voted no.

We appreciate our own Emily Jordan, R-Isle of Wight, for sticking to her principles and voting to override the veto of a popular governor in her own party. Sen. Lashrecse Aird, D-Petersburg, whose legislative district includes Surry County, also voted to override. 

Isle of Wight County officials strongly endorsed the legislation. The Virginia Association of Counties mounted an intense effort to persuade enough senators to buck the governor, but to no avail.

The consequences will soon become real for Isle of Wight, which faces a $71 million tab to replace the aging Westside Elementary at some point in coming years on the heels of borrowing $30 million to replace Hardy Elementary.