Richard Collins, a soon-to-retire University of Virginia professor of architecture and urban planning, is also a candidate for the seat vacated this year by Delegate Mitch Van Yahres, who was first elected in 1981.
Collins is the candidate of the "progressive" faction of the local Democratic Party. He faces the party establishment favorite, former City Council member David Toscano, and low-cost housing developer Kim Tingley in the primary election scheduled for June 14. All three candidates have submitted a sufficient number of petition signatures to qualify to be on the ballot.
I am sure if you presented me with a list of ten priorities that Rich Collins will pursue as a member of the Virginia General Assembly, I would disagree with nine of them. His tree-hugging rhetoric and leadership of the anti-worker, anti-homeowner, anti-entrepreneur, anti-choice Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population (ASAP) tell me that he and I would seldom, if ever, read off the same page.
But somehow, this left-wing Democrat has stumbled upon something essentially correct and progressive in his position on how our system of property taxes should be reformed. He told John Borgmeyer of C-VILLE, the Charlottesville weekly tabloid (the one published on Tuesdays, not Thursdays -- that's The Hook):
My proposal would provide the option for local government to freeze the assessments. What could happen is that homeowners would not have to pay higher assessments until they sold the place. For newcomers, it would be like a price for admission to a community in which there has been a great investment into water, sewer, schools and an attractive community. Im strongly in favor of using markets to make long-term changes in our economy.Does that sound familiar? Here's what VOTORS (Virginians Over-Taxed on Residences) has to say on that same topic:
VOTORS believe the Current Market Value property tax process in Virginia is unfair, unjust and unrelated to the taxpayers ability to pay
VOTORS want a Virginia Constitutional Amendment that provides an Acquisition-Value Based property tax system which:
* Resets property assessment values those on record a minimum of 2 years prior to passage of this amendment (base year value)
*Imposes a 2% limit on the increase in property value assessments annually from the base year until a property is sold, at which time the property value is adjusted to the selling price
*Imposes a 1% cap on property tax rates and requires a state referendum for any subsequent increase to the tax rate cap
VOTORS believe local governments must be more efficient and disciplined in their budget development
VOTORS believe an Acquisition-Value Based property tax system will strengthen families, strengthen public education, and strengthen and help drive a robust Virginia economy
This is also the approach endorsed by a coalition of conservatives and libertarians last week at a news conference in Richmond. As reported in the Newport News Daily Press on April 13 (is it significant that that day is Thomas Jefferson's birthday?):
To control spiraling real estate taxes, some conservative Republicans are prescribing even stronger medicine than their likely nominee for governor.
Under their proposal, governments would base the tax on what the owner paid for a property and not its current market value.
* * *
Tuesday's proposal came from conservative lawmakers and a group of activists called the Tuesday Morning Group Coalition, which focuses on taxes, property rights and education.
The plan is part of an 11-point conservative agenda for 2006 that will also touch on education and transportation.
The tax-relief proposal is still in the early stages, but it would fundamentally change how Virginia assesses property and computes the real estate tax.
The state constitution requires property to be assessed at fair market value.
The new approach would be acquisition-based, meaning that assessments would change little, if at all, until a sale occurs. It would require amending the constitution.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Jerry Kilgore also wants a constitutional amendment, one that would limit assessment increases to 5 percent a year unless the property is sold or improved.
In reporting on the same news conference, the AP said:
Supporters of the coalition's proposal said more needs to be done to keep government from pricing residents out of their homes.Responding to sneering criticism from Tim Kaine's campaign that the proposal bore similarities to the California property tax law known as Proposition 13, "Aitken said real estate tax revenue increased by an average of 10 percent annually in California in the decade after Proposition 13, despite the growth limit on property values."
"I've literally stood on the doorsteps of constituents' homes when they were on the verge of tears, wondering if they'll have to sell their house and move," Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Prince William, said at a news conference.
Al Aitken, chairman of Virginians Over-Taxed On Residences, said the proposal would force local elected officials to either manage finances better or raise the tax rate rather than rely on inflated assessments to bring in more revenue.
"They'll have to actually govern," he said.
If Rich Collins is in favor of a VOTORS-style, Proposition-13-inspired, radical program of tax reform, I'm on the same side as Rich Collins.