The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for an exemption from ad valorem taxation of all or part of the market value of the residence homestead of the surviving spouse of a 100 percent or totally disabled veteran who died before the law authorizing a residence homestead exemption for such a veteran took effect.
- Page 15 of the "Analyses of Proposed Constitutional Amendments" by the Texas Legislative Council
- Page 8 of the 2015 ballot "focus report" by the Texas House of Representatives
- Page 2 of progresstexas.org's ballot guide (for a progressive perspective)
- Page 4 of the Texas Libertarian 2015 Voter Guide (for a libertarian perspective)
What does this do?
For a while, we've had a law where a "totally disabled" veteran that owned their home could be 100% exempt from property taxes. Then, in 2011, we passed an amendment making it such that, when these veterans died, their property tax exemption remained for their spouse, as long as the spouse stayed in the same home and did not remarry. Due to legalese wording reasons, that law has unintentionally only been able to apply when the veteran died after 2011, when it came into law. This amendment makes it apply retroactively to cover veterans who died before 2011.
Also, there are already extra homestead exemptions if you are elderly or disabled (regardless of veteran status), which already apply to a surviving spouse (still in the same home and not remarried).
The same oddities of homestead exemptions I explained for prop 1 apply here. This is the state government mandating a cut in taxes that are only collected by local governments. It's unclear how this will affect local government revenue, especially around military bases where there may be a high number of people eligible for this exemption. Some state this as a reason to oppose the law, but others point to the bill HB 7 which they say should make state taxes cover the difference. I don't know to what extent that will actually happen.
This would apply to an estimated 3,800 people.
I've seen support for this purely based on the fact that it's a "tax cut". But making selective exceptions to tax law is, in effect, no different from writing a check to those people for that amount. Whether we call this welfare or a tax cut is really just semantics. It should be evaluated on whether it's a good use of public money.
Why would this be good?
It will give money to people who likely would highly benefit from it, and for the most part we wouldn't have to worry about a disincentive to work.
Why would this be bad?
A large part of the harm this addressed in 2011 is a sudden increase in property taxes after a spouse dies, which the surviving spouse didn't anticipate and can't handle. Because this year's amendment applies retroactively for deaths that occurred many years ago, this is helping people who already faced that sudden increase in property taxes and have remained in the same home, unmarried, all that time anyway. By selecting who gets financial assistance this way, we are likely specifically helping only those who need it least (out of the category of surviving spouses of fully disabled veterans). Because presumably, the surviving spouses who are hurting for cash the most had to sell their home or did not own a home in the first place.
As I already hinted at right above this, and explained in more detail in my previous post on prop 1, I really dislike homestead exemptions in general. It'd be much better to give surviving spouses, or any person in need, some sort of tax rebate that is not dependent on their owning a house.
I wonder if there are other unintended side effects of the weird selection process for who receives this money. For instance, if an old veteran dies, leaving his old wife behind, it may be best for the children to help her sell her house and move nearby. Could the fact that she could lose a full exemption on property tax lead people to not make such a move? Would someone not remarry, despite wanting to, because they would suddenly see their cost of living shoot up?
I believe public policy should financially help those who really need help. And this would surely help some people who do really need that help. However, this seems like a really bad way to do it. Whether someone deserves help is not dependent on whether their spouse was in the military, or if they have chosen to not remarry after that spouse died, or if they owned a home and have not moved. This amendment strikes me as a really bad way to financially help those in need. I want my vote to acknowledge that there are many problems with this proposal, but I also don't want to make the perfect the enemy of the good. So I don't know what I'm going to do. Maybe I'll just not vote on this one.
What would it take to change my mind?