On January 13, 2014, the State House again took under consideration House Bill 1214. Briefly stated, HB 1214 exempts from property taxes veterans with one hundred percent service-connected disabilities and active duty members of the armed forces, National Guard, or Reserves who have incurred a catastrophic injury in the line of duty. The Bill has been around awhile. It was first introduced a year ago and sent to the Finance Committee, reintroduced in May of 2013, reintroduced in November of 2013, and reintroduced in January.
This is a bill that deserves action. The Bill’s heart is in the right place, although the devil is in the details. Our veterans deserve every consideration we can give them. But ask any veteran, and you will learn that they are a proud bunch. They have a right to be. By putting on a uniform, and pledging to “…support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, …”, our service men and women willingly put their lives in peril for our sake; for freedom, for our children, for those too cautious to take such risk. We owe them something; not as an entitlement, but as the repayment of a debt. There is a difference.
Some debts are harder to repay than others. How do you meaningfully thank a warrior who died in battle? By taking the family camping on Memorial Day? How do you honor the woman whose leg was blown off while serving in Afghanistan? Our veterans carry the scars of battle in ways we can never fully understand. Yes, it was their duty. They know it. But it was also our duty. Protecting liberty is not the unique role of those in uniform. We all have that duty. Those in uniform volunteer to take our place, doing our duty for us. Therein lies a debt to repay – our debt.
HB 1214 has its flaws. For example, it exempts property taxes for claimants over the age of sixty-one, who are retired from gainful employment by reason of disability who have a one-hundred percent service-connected disability rating; or active duty service members who suffered a catastrophic loss within twenty-four months prior to the date of application for exemption. The rationale behind the restrictions appears to be the sort of legalism you might expect from one wanting to close loopholes.
HB 1214 also imposes limitations on the benefit based on disposable income. If someone whose body is wrecked in combat somehow is able to make good in civilian life, the benefit effectively goes away. In other words, if their lives are irretrievably altered by service-connected wounds, they must prove that they deserve what amounts to welfare based on their inability to pay property taxes. Again, the limitation is nonsense. It may make budgetary sense to a state bureaucrat. But it gives short shrift to the ones who put themselves in harm’s way for us.
Perhaps our legislators should ask themselves this question: Did our soldiers pledge to support and defend only those of us who can demonstrate an inability, based on income, to defend ourselves? If not, why would we only offer to repay our debt to them, only if they really need it? The notion is absurd. Balance the budget, yes, but not on the backs of our veterans.
This is not tough. Exempt all service men and women who suffered catastrophic losses in the line of duty from paying property taxes – no exemptions, no restrictions, no delays, no excuses. They deserve it. Do it now. It’s the right thing to do.