Changing the Constitution of Virginia is a lengthy and difficult process. Although many potential amendments are proposed during each session of the General Assembly, a relatively small percentage of these changes are ultimately enacted. As the Constitution of Virginia is the document that specifically enumerates the limitations of the authority of the Commonwealth’s government, our Founding Fathers wisely made the process of altering it rigorous and restrictive.
A proposed amendment must first be approved by the House of Delegates and the Senate of Virginia. If it makes it through that first hurdle, it has to be approved a second time by the next General Assembly, but only after an election for the General Assembly has been held. Strong, broad-based support for the merits and necessity of an amendment are required to make it through this portion of the approval process.
Unlike amendments to the United States Constitution, changes made to the Constitution of Virginia must also be approved directly by our citizens. Virginia’s voters have the final and authoritative say as to whether or not a proposed amendment is enacted. This final safeguard ensures that the Constitution of Virginia is only modified with the expressed consent of the people.
In the November 2 election this year, Hanoverians will make the final decision on three proposed amendments to the Constitution. All three secured the requisite support during two successive General Assembly sessions with an intervening election, with each winning final approval during the 2010 session with strong bipartisan support and without any opposing votes. I voted in favor of all three of these amendments.
The first proposed amendment would give Virginia’s local government greater authority in granting property tax relief to senior citizens and those who are disabled. The amendment would end current restrictions to granting real estate tax relief to these citizens. These property tax exemptions can currently be given only to those senior or disabled citizens who “bear an extraordinary tax burden.” This amendment would remove that requirement and allow the General Assembly to give local Boards of Supervisors and City Councils the authority to determine what income limitations would be necessary to qualify for the relief in their communities.
It makes sense to give local government greater authority in determining the financial requirements for these exemptions. This change would streamline the process of granting these exemptions, and ensure that appropriate qualifications for property tax relief for senior and disabled citizens are determined in the same communities in which they reside.
The second proposed amendment would require the General Assembly approve legislation to grant a full property tax exemption on the primary residences of veterans who have a “100-percent service-connected, permanent, and total disability.” Additionally, the surviving spouse of a qualified veteran would continue to be eligible for the exemption, provided they remain in the residence and do not remarry.
We owe a lot to those who have served our country, and those whose sacrifices resulted in a 100-percent permanent and total disability deserve special consideration. The Constitution does not make such allowances for these veterans currently.
The third proposed amendment would help strengthen the fiscal stability of the Commonwealth. Virginia’s Revenue Stabilization Fund, more commonly known as the Rainy Day Fund, is a national model that has played a large part in Virginia being frequently lauded as “America’s Best Managed State.” It has proven to be essential in maintaining our AAA bond rating and has provided a critical fiscal safeguard during economic downturns.
Contributions are made to the Rainy Day Fund each year state revenues are higher than they were projected. Currently, the maximum size of the Rainy Day Fund is limited to 10-percent of the Commonwealth’s average annual tax revenues from income and sales taxes for the three previous fiscal years. Unfortunately, we have learned that recent economic downtowns have lasted longer than the Rainy Day Fund was originally designed to withstand. Prudence and fiscal responsibility dictate that when the economy rebounds, we put more aside for future fiscal downturns. This amendment would raise the future maximum amount of the Fund to 15-percent, ensuring that Virginia continues its reputation for strong and conservative fiscal management.
With exceptional bipartisan consensus, members of the General Assembly have determined that these three amendments to the Constitution of Virginia will benefit our Commonwealth and its citizens. The final say, however, is yours. Our Constitution recognizes the wisdom of the people, entrusting them with the ultimate authority on approving amendments. That is exactly as it should be.
Ryan T. McDougle,
4th Senate District of Virginia