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Rainy day fund constitutional amendment only barely passes

By Rosalind Helderman
Rosalind Helderman

What message were voters trying to send on Tuesday?

Here's an interesting and possibly illustrative tidbit. Voters approved three amendments to the state Constitution on Tuesday.

Two won handily -- an amendment to allow localities to establish programs to give the elderly and disabled property tax relief without state approval (76 percent voted "yes") and an amendment providing full real estate tax relief to military veterans with 100 percent service-related disabilities (82 percent voted "yes").

But the third was something of a squeaker. Voters agreed to raise the amount the General Assembly can set aside in the state's rainy day fund during strong economic times.

Only 51 percent of voters backed the amendment. In many, many counties, the amendment lost.

What's to account for the difference?

One possibility is that voters were just confused by the question. The question explained that the amendment would allow the General Assembly to contribute 15 percent of the average annual sales and income tax revenues of the previous three years in any given year to the state's Revenue Stabilization Fund, rather than 10 percent. Many experts think voters often say "no" to ballot initiatives if they find them confusing.

But another possibility is that many voters saw the measure as a way for politicians to sock away their tax dollars in good times and then avoid making difficult spending cuts during economic downturns. A number of conservative commentators had expressed reservations about the amendment before the election.

"The voters were discerning enough to realize, 'Oh, this one is not like the others,' " said Norman Leahy, who had expressed skepticism about it on the blog Tertium Quids. The first two initiatives, he said were "sugar pills" - feel-good amendments with little opposition. But the third, he said, was "castrol oil."

"It means that the state wants to keep more of your money in its mattress," he said. "A lot of folks have better uses for that money than to have the state use it as a slush fund for tough times. You have to think that people will eventually start demanding that money. It's their money and the state has no prior claim to it."

By Rosalind Helderman  | November 4, 2010; 3:39 PM ET
Categories:  !General Assembly, 2010 Virginia Congressional Races, Election 2010, Rosalind Helderman  
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Comments

I voted against the "rainy day" fund because it didn't make sense. They should fund programs or not fund them. It does not make sense that they would set aside 15 percent of annual revenues and then deny funds to desperately needed projects.

Posted by: blasmaic | November 4, 2010 8:05 PM | Report abuse

All three of these amendments are bad. I was not at all surprised that they passed, but the real estate tax exemptions in particular are noxious and seriously damage local funding in areas with lots of seniors. The disabled already get tax free benefits, I don't see why they should be exempt from paying for the country services they consume.

Posted by: staticvars | November 4, 2010 10:58 PM | Report abuse

The first I heard of these amendments was about 1 month before the elections. The first seems reasonable, except there is opportunity for REAL abuse here.

The second is just stupid. The term "service related" should have been "COMBAT RELATED". As it is, if a soldier (on active duty) and a postman get on an elevator and the cable breaks, leaving both 100% disabled, the soldier gets a tax break...

Posted by: NancyNaive | November 5, 2010 6:34 AM | Report abuse

The first I heard of these amendments was about 1 month before the elections. The first seems reasonable, except there is opportunity for REAL abuse here.

The second is just stupid. The term "service related" should have been "COMBAT RELATED". As it is, if a soldier (on active duty) and a postman get on an elevator and the cable breaks, leaving both 100% disabled, the soldier gets a tax break...

Posted by: NancyNaive | November 5, 2010 6:35 AM | Report abuse

I was not confused. I voted NO on the third ammendment because my tax money should be spent on projects that desperately need to be supported NOW like Education, roads, public safety, etc.
I'm sick and tired of sitting in traffic because the state leaders are unwilling to do what is necessary to build new roads and being nickeled and dimed by "fees" because the leaders refuse to raise taxes to pay for what the citizens of Virginia need in their schools and communities.

Posted by: lgtp | November 5, 2010 10:35 AM | Report abuse

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