VOICES: Local vets focused on equal tax relief for disabled vets

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The Military Officer Association of America (Fort Campbell Chapter) in association with the Montgomery County Veterans Coalition spearheaded this initial effort last week to organize veterans from across the state in one-on-one meetings with legislators on vital veteran issues.

On Feb. 17, approximately 200 veterans, representing almost two dozen different veteran-affiliated organizations from across the state of Tennessee met one-on-one with legislators and staff in their capitol offices.  Honored Tennessee veterans from all services, including William “Bill” Robinson, a retired U.S. Air Force officer who was a Vietnam prisoner of war for seven and a half years, were in attendance.

For many veterans, this was their first visit to the Capitol and they met with their elected representatives to discuss two particular pieces of legislation. One cosponsored bill that was passed in the last legislative session, HB1197/SB1336 titled “Save the Tax Relief Act,” was an effort to soften property tax hikes that would affect disabled veterans. However, the changes made to the 42-year-old property tax relief program still had a strong negative impact on new disabled veterans applying for the program.

Those veterans that qualified for the tax relief program by 2014 or before were grandfathered. Those that met the disabled definition/test and applied after that date now had income limitations, defined as all types of income to include that of family members who are also in ownership of the property (limit $60,000) and the property market value allowed could not exceed $100,000 (decreased from $175,000).

This has created two classes of veterans that meet the same disabled definition, which may invoke issues of illegal discrimination.  There are also legal questions involving the state violating federal law contained in Titles 38 and 26 of the U.S. Code.  These sections state that the compensation that the United States provides to qualified disabled veterans cannot be included in income calculations for taxing purposes.

The new Tennessee law makes no allowance for separating income provided by the federal government for disabled veterans.
Veterans, even those who do not qualify for such property tax relief, believe the state should not try to generate the revenue and surpluses on the backs of those who have served this nation.

The law should be completely reversed, especially at a time when the state is seeing hundreds of millions in revenue surpluses this year.

Veterans support Sen. Mark Green’s and Rep. Joe Pitts’ cosponsored bills (SB1465/HB1515, and SB1484/HB1410) which reverse last year’s legislative changes.

The revenue that flowed into the state from all veteran and VA programs and payments in 2014 was $3.8 billion.  The cost to restore full property tax relief to new disable veterans is estimated to be $3.6 million.

These disabled veterans are not asking for new tax dollars, but to retain a very small portion of the revenue they bring into the state.

Last year, Tennessee stood up and told the federal government and military, the Army in particular, that we want, need and have always taken care of Fort Campbell and the soldiers and families it brings to our communities.

That desire to take care of the military has traditionally extended to those who leave the service and stay in Tennessee.  Veterans and other citizens believe property tax actions taken last year reverse a long-standing commitment to military members.  This reversal could have implications on future Army decisions regarding Fort Campbell, as well as newly retired soldiers making the decision to retire in Tennessee.

Responses from many legislators to the veterans’ request have been generally favorable as work proceeds on a law revision.

Another bill drawing veteran support is Sen. Green’s and Rep Holt’s cosponsored bill, SB2181/HB2380. It would eliminate the three-year time limit that honorably discharged veterans must enroll in public institution of higher education in order to receive in-state tuition.  This bill is scheduled to come before the Senate Education Committee this week.

Veterans will continue to follow and contact their legislators on these bills as they progress through the legislature.

CLARKSVILLE VOICES
Guest commentary on issues of importance to Clarksville, Montgomery County and Fort Campbell. If you have an idea for a commentary, please email voices@theleafchronicle.com.

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