- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 1, 2005

Rising property tax bills have emerged as a key issue in this year’s Virginia political races.

Both of the main candidates for governor have proposed plans that they say will ease the tax burden on homeowners, and many of the other statewide candidates also have focused on ways to relieve property tax bills.

Those campaigning for the House of Delegates say many voters complain about rising property taxes.

“Property taxes are similar to the car tax in that it is a large bill that catches people’s attention,” said James T. Parmelee, president of Republicans United for Tax Relief. “When they are campaigning, now everyone has a plan.”

Former Virginia Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, who is seeking the Republican nomination for governor, said yesterday that his plan would cap property tax assessments at 5 percent, unless the property was improved or sold. He initially announced his plan earlier this spring.

Mr. Kilgore’s plan would require a constitutional amendment, which would not be implemented until at least 2008, if approved by the state legislature and voters.

Mr. Kilgore also proposed immediate relief if homeowners’ assessments increased by 20 percent or more.

Under current law, the burden of proof falls on a homeowner who appeals such an increase. Under Mr. Kilgore’s plan, the burden would fall on the local government. The homeowner could not appeal if the property has been improved or sold. If the increase is less than 20 percent, the burden of proof would remain on the homeowner.

“This plan is about infusing more honesty into the system that affects one of the main pillars of the American dream: owning your own home,” Mr. Kilgore said.

Mr. Kilgore’s plan also would require governments to provide detailed statements and notices to homeowners about proposed increases to property tax rates and inform them of public hearings where they can comment.

Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat running unopposed in his party for governor, has said he would push for a constitutional amendment that would allow local governments to exempt up to 20 percent of the assessed value of homes and small farms. The proposed amendment is subject to legislature and voter approval, and would not take effect until at least 2008.

Mr. Kaine’s plan also would allow homeowners to remodel or add on to their homes without paying taxes on the improvements for 15 years.

Under Mr. Kaine’s plan, local governments would not be required to adopt the homeowner tax-relief measures.

Kaine campaign spokeswoman Delacey Skinner yesterday called Mr. Kilgore’s plan “fiscally irresponsible.” She said Mr. Kaine has pledged to fully fund education and that she does not think the voters of Virginia can trust Mr. Kilgore to do the same.

Miss Skinner noted that Mr. Kaine in March proposed detailed tax bills, and she said that the Kilgore campaign “lifted” the idea.

Also yesterday, Delegate Viola O. Baskerville, a Richmond Democrat seeking her party’s nomination for lieutenant governor, announced a plan that encourages localities to offer the full property-tax exemption allowed for senior citizens and the disabled. She said those Virginians need tax relief most.

She also supports several elements of Mr. Kaine’s plan, including the abatement program.

Delegate J. Chapman Petersen, a Fairfax City Democrat also seeking his party’s nomination for lieutenant governor, supports Mr. Kaine’s homestead exemption plan.

Mr. Kilgore yesterday criticized local governments for trumpeting tax cuts when assessments are increasing substantially. “Some are trumpeting themselves as tax cutters — this is dishonest and intentionally misleading,” he said.

The average assessment in Northern Virginia has increased 20 percent in the past year. Assessments are up 23 percent in Fairfax and Prince William counties and 24 percent in Arlington.

County boards and town or city councils statewide are slashing the property tax rate, but bills continue to rise as home values increase.

Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Sean T. Connaughton, who is seeking the Republican nomination for lieutenant governor, has been championing a cut that gave the fast-growing county one of the lowest tax bills in the region. Still, the bills are higher.

The board has lowered the rate by 45 cents since 2000. The board also has in place a tax cap that will not allow the average tax bill to increase more than 5.9 percent.

Sen. William T. Bolling, Hanover Republican also running for his party’s nomination for lieutenant governor, has proposed a property assessment freeze for low- and middle-income homeowners 65 or older.

Primaries will be held June 14.

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