- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 17, 2005

Virginia Lt. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate who last year supported tax increases, announced yesterday a plan that could save homeowners several hundreds of dollars in taxes.

The five-part proposal includes local government options to help ease the burden on homeowners who are experiencing rapid assessment increases that outpace inflation and salary growth.

Local governments would not be required to adopt the homeowner tax-relief measure, Mr. Kaine said.

“Is there a way we can do it without jamming things down local governments’ throats, which states are fond of doing?” Mr. Kaine said yesterday during his first major policy announcement since starting his campaign Wednesday. “Can I give local officials a tool I wish I’d had so I can target relief right at homeowners, and I think that is the more responsible way to go about this?”

Mr. Kaine last year supported a $1.38 billion tax-reform package that funded education, health care and public safety needs. The package included tax increases and cuts.

Mr. Kaine’s plan calls for a constitutional amendment creating a homestead exemption that would allow local governments to exempt from taxation up to 20 percent of the assessed value of a residence or small farm.

For example, a Fairfax County resident with a house assessed at $400,000 last year would save $920 under the exemption, Mr. Kaine said.

Mr. Kaine said 26 states and the District have such exemptions. Virginia has an exemption for the elderly and the disabled.

For Ellen Davenport of the Virginia Association of Counties, making property tax relief a local option offered little comfort.

“The insidious thing about this is that if it came to pass, there’d be tremendous political pressure on local governments to provide the exemptions,” Miss Davenport said.

A cornerstone of Mr. Kaine’s plan is a promise that as governor he would veto any legislation that has a local fiscal impact but no funding source. He also would require the legislature to fully pay for the state’s commitment to the Standards of Quality, which are state regulations for funding quality K-12 education.

The state has never paid its full share of the standards, several government officials have said.

Mr. Kaine said the funding requirement is key because local governments are forced to raise the money through higher property taxes when the state fails to pay its share of education bills.

If Mr. Kaine is elected, it is unclear if the state legislature would support his tax-relief plan. The constitutional amendment would not go to voters for approval until 2008.

His plan also would allow homeowners to remodel or add on to their homes without paying taxes on the improvements for 15 years. He said the program, which is similar to the one he ran in Richmond when he was mayor in the late 1990s, creates an incentive for people to stay and renovate their homes.

His plan also would require that homeowners receive more detailed tax bills that would include the current rate and the proposed new rate so they understand when property taxes increase and how they can appeal them.

Mr. Kaine’s Web site, www.kaine2005.org, includes a calculator that shows how much homeowners would save under his plan.

Property assessments have been skyrocketing statewide in recent years. Average assessments in the Washington suburbs rose 20 percent in the past year. They are up 23 percent in Fairfax County and up 24 percent in Arlington County.

Mr. Kaine’s main opponent, former state Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore, denounced the proposal yesterday. Mr. Kilgore, a Republican who opposed last year’s tax increases and the education spending, said the plan is an attempt to distract voters.

“Only a high-tax advocate could force a record tax increase on the citizens without their input one year, and in the next year cynically release a plan that simply gives localities the option of providing relief,” the Kilgore campaign said in a statement.

Mr. Kilgore, who officially begins his campaign for governor Monday, will address real estate property tax concerns “in a meaningful way,” said Tim Murtaugh, a Kilgore spokesman.

Candidates in different statewide races and from different parties have brought up real estate tax cuts over the past week.

Sen. William T. Bolling, Hanover Republican who is running for lieutenant governor, on Tuesday proposed a property assessment freeze for low- and middle-income homeowners 65 or older.

S.A. Miller contributed to this story, which is based in part on wire service reports.

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