By MADISON HIRNEISEN
THE CENTER SQUARE
(The Center Square) – California lawmakers quietly killed a bill this month that would have offered property tax exemptions for 100% disabled veterans, leaving some former service members to weigh whether or not they can afford to stay in the Golden State.
Senate Bill 1357 would have offered property tax exemptions on the home of a 100% disabled veteran and their spouse or unmarried surviving spouse. The measure was a victim of the Suspense File, a bi-annual process where lawmakers review hundreds of fiscal bills and quietly kill or forward off measures without public discussion.
The measure would have represented a significant change to the state’s existing property tax exemption for disabled veterans, which currently allows an exemption in the amount equal to the value of the property up to $100,000, adjusted for inflation. If household income is under $40,000, the exemption is increased to $150,000.
The full tax exemption would have exclusively applied to 100% disabled veterans who own a home in California. In total, just over 73,000 veterans who had a 100% service-connected disability rating lived in California, according to data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. California’s total veteran population tops 1.8 million, according to Census data.
The bill’s author, Sen. Bob Archuleta, a veteran himself and chair of the Senate Military Veterans Committee, told The Center Square that lawmakers held the bill in the Suspense File due to the fiscal cost. According to a bill analysis, SB 1357 was likely to result in property tax revenue loss “in excess of $33.2 million” that would be split evenly between local taxing bodies and the state’s general fund.
“I knew [the cost] was going to be an obstacle, but I didn’t realize that it would actually stop the bill from getting out of appropriations,” Sen. Archuleta, D-Pico Rivera, said.
Disabled veterans from across the state threw their support behind this measure as it wove through the Legislature, believing that if it passed, it would offer some relief from the high cost of homeownership and give some incentive to continue to live in California.
“We got hundreds upon hundreds of phone calls from veterans, not just in California, but actually outside of California, from places like Florida, Texas, Arizona, [saying] they want to come back into California because the cost of living would be adjusted somewhat, and if they didn’t have to pay property tax as as disabled veterans, they would be able to come back,” Sen. Archuleta said.
Several other states, including Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Maryland and Texas, already offer complete property tax exemptions for 100% disabled veterans. Without the exemption available in the Golden State, disabled veterans say they are considering moving out of California to somewhere more affordable.
“Things aren’t exactly getting better in the state of California financially and it’s very expensive to live here,” Michael Barrett, a retired Marine and 100% disabled veteran who lives in Rancho Santa Margarita, told The Center Square. “Being a homeowner in the state of California is extremely expensive to maintain.”
If this bill had passed, Mr. Barrett said it would have “solidified” his reason for staying in California.
“Myself and all my buddies, we’re still having conversations to date – even as early as last night with my own wife – about potentially leaving California,” he added.
Mr. Barrett said he and his family love California and do not want to leave, but each day it’s getting “harder and harder each day to maintain that dream of living, fully retiring and staying in California.”
Torrance Chaplin, another 100% disabled veteran, told The Center Square that if SB 1357 had passed, it would have likely saved him over $10,000 a year in taxes.
In his work as a financial broker, Mr. Chaplin has several clients who would have qualified for the exemption and were considering putting off moves to other states with full exemptions if SB 1357 passed.
“That was one of the biggest deciding factors for one of my clients that actually told me about the bill,” the San Diego resident said. “He was actually in the process of looking into moving to Texas because of that and then when he found out about the bill, he kind of canceled his plan, saying ‘okay, I’m gonna sit tight in California.'”
Mr. Chaplin lamented the bill’s defeat, questioning the state’s interest in putting more money toward measures like expanding the film and TV tax credit when “those guys are making money for the most part.”
With the legislative session set to wrap up on Aug. 31, Sen. Archuleta said it’s too late to advance a similar proposal this year, but he hopes to introduce a similar bill in the future. To give the proposal a better chance of getting passed through the Legislature next time, Sen. Archuleta said it’s going to take educating more committee members on the effect of “making [veterans] feel part of this nation, part of this state of California, that they’re appreciated and recognized.”
“Our California veterans are struggling with a high cost of housing, as well as anyone else, and so we’ve got to do more to bring our veterans back and keep our veterans here in California,” Sen. Archuleta said.
Mr. Barrett and Mr. Chaplin both said they and other disabled veterans would be in support of a similar bill in a future legislative session but noted that the pull to move to other states that already offer the exemption is strong.
“Other states seem to value and honor that service and sacrifice,” Mr. Barrett said. “That’s the exact terminology that I’ve heard time and time again here – there’s not a sense of appreciation for those that have endured protecting our nation’s freedom here in the state of California.”