West Virginia is in an interesting position, regarding U.S. military veterans.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says that, as of 2013, there were 173,389 veterans in West Virginia. That’s almost 10% of the population. A U.S. Senate report from 2014 said veterans were 10.7% of the population.
The same source reports that nearly 30,400 West Virginia vets receive monthly disability compensation.
And although specific numbers and percentages vary by source, what does not change is that more West Virginians died, per capita, fighting Vietnam than any other state.
No one does patriotism, or supports veterans and veteran organizations, like West Virginia.
So it’s interesting that, as a state, we provide very little to veterans, particularly 100% disabled veterans, when compared to other states, including neighbors Ohio, Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia.
Current West Virginia law grants property tax exemptions to anyone over 65, and anyone who is 100% disabled, up to the first $20,000 of assessed property value.
Although some veterans do qualify under both of these, neither are veteran-specific. For example, almost all Vietnam veterans are 65 or older.
For two years, two amendments have been proposed, but have not passed either Legislative chamber to reach the floor for a vote, let alone made it to a ballot for the public to decide.
One amendment would exempt 100% disabled veterans from any property tax on the veteran’s residence.
The other amendment would exempt all honorably discharged veterans from property taxes on the first $30,000 of assessed value on the veteran’s primary residence, with some qualifications. Delegate Isaac Sponaugle is one of this amendment’s sponsors.
For comparison, many states with similar exemptions use the first $50,000 of assessed value, or even $100,000 or more.
Governor Jim Justice is widely expected to present a budget that eliminates all tax exemptions, because West Virginia is very much in debt.
One of his possible budget plans cuts funding to veterans assistance entirely, among other programs, directly affecting veteran assistance field offices and facilities such as the vets’ nursing home in Clarksburg, a cemetery in Institute, and a homeless shelter in Barboursville.
We can’t help but consider the $4.4 million that the AP reported Justice owes West Virginia in back taxes, and how that could benefit, or even just maintain, veterans and some of the veterans’ programs.
We understand that everyone cannot be exempt from taxes, especially property taxes, which tend to be the primary revenue source for state and municipal governments. And we recognize just how very badly West Virginia needs revenue.
But veterans have staked their lives, potentially and literally, for our freedoms, our very lifestyles. We often thank veterans with words; this is a way to thank them with actions.
Both Legislative chambers will discuss this on March 5. Please let your state senators and delegate know where you stand, as soon as possible, if you support either or both of these amendments.
State Senators representing the 14th District, including Hardy County:
Randy Smith, 304-357-7995, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Dave Sypolt, 304-357-7914, email@example.com.¬†
State Delegate representing 55th District, including Hardy County:
Isaac Sponaugle, 304-340-3154, firstname.lastname@example.org.