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Recognizing the Service of San Diego's Veterans

As printed in the San Diego Daily Transcript; November 29, 2007

Erik Bruvold and Vince Vasquez

Thursday, November 29, 2007

San Diego is home to one of the largest communities of veterans in the nation. When it comes to local government’s efforts to reduce the tax burden on those that have sacrificed for our country, our region lags behind. It is time that we do more. Policies reducing local tax burdens for our veterans would not only recognize and honor the sacrifices they have made to keep this country free, but would also help ease the high-cost of homeownership in San Diego, enabling more veterans to stay in the county after they finish their service to our country.

Texas has given local policy makers a model. Earlier this month, voters in the Lone Star State overwhelmingly approved Proposition Nine, which expanded property tax exemptions for disabled veterans and lowered the qualifying criteria for coverage. Texan veterans who are totally or 100% disabled from service-connected injuries are completely exempt from property taxes on their farm, ranch, or primary residence. Veterans who are partially (10% or more) disabled qualify for exemptions between $5,000 and $12,000.

Unfortunately California, which has some of the highest state tax revenue rates and most expensive housing prices in the country, also has some of the stingiest packages of property tax benefits for veterans. Only those 100% physically disabled from service-connected injuries qualify to receive a reduction of up to $161,420 of the assessed value of their homes. State data shows that in 2006 this provided an average tax benefit of only $92. While legislative efforts have been made in Sacramento to expand the state program, the efforts have largely failed, pushed back by special interests opposed to reducing state revenues.

Nevertheless, more than 4,000 veterans in the county filed for the exemption last year, which makes San Diego County the county with the largest share of veteran taxpayers utilizing the credit. That speaks loudly to the strength and sacrifices of our local veteran community. For more than a hundred years, San Diego has has been the home of thousands of marines and sailors. Many while stationed here have been captivated by San Diego’s beauty and quality of life and have returned to settle in the county. Today, more than 261,400 veterans call San Diego County home, the second-largest veterans’ community in California, and one of the largest in the country.

These numbers have been shrinking. According to the U.S. Census, there are 52,000 fewer veterans living in Sn Diego County then there were in 1990. This is in large part due to the deaths of many of the veterans of World War II. But it also is due to the fact that many newly retired servicemen and women can not afford to live in our region. San Diego households on average pay 34 percent more for consumer goods and services each year than the national average. This year, for example, San Diego property owners will pay $3,600 more for housing than the national average. Even with all the record foreclosures and property valuation drops this year, the median sales price for a house in San Diego County in October was $460,000, a price tag well above the national average.

Implementing a San Diego Veterans Property Tax Credit which would provide a $500 property tax credit, awarded to all wartime veterans with honorable discharges not currently receiving the state tax benefit, would build upon successful veteran’s programs adopted in several other municipalities. For example, many towns and cities in New Hampshire have adopted property tax credits for veterans that exceed state benefits. In 1997 New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani signed into law an extension of state property tax relief for residential veterans who lived in co-operative housing.

SDI estimates that this program could annually cost the various levels of government that rely upon property tax $58 million. However, considering that the county collects in more than $3.4 billion in property taxes each year, a San Diego Veterans Property Tax Credit would represent less than 2% of the current total annual property tax revenue. Cutting taxes for San Diego’s veterans would honor their duty to our country and would allow servicemen and women to settle in San Diego County.