RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — It’s the tax that never goes away: Virginia’s infamous personal property tax.
“For years down the road, you continuously pay for it, year after year after year,” said Robert Dean, chair of the Tidewater Libertarian Party. Dean wants the levy often referred to as the “vehicle tax” or the “car tax” to go away.
“I am so glad that you brought this subject up because nobody else has been talking about it other than the Youngkin administration,” Dean said during a recent interview.
(Dean has registered the entity name Tidewater Libertarian Party with the State Corporation Commission, however the Libertarian National Committee and the Libertarian Party of Virginia disavow any connection with Dean.)
Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) talked about reducing or eliminating taxes as one of his key promises during his campaign. 10 On Your Side made repeated attempts to discuss the subject with Youngkin or a member of his administration. On Friday, as part of an interview on a separate topic, he told us he wants to empower taxpayers when it comes to tax increases.
“A big initiative for us is to give Virginians the ability to review what’s happening with their personal property taxes,” Youngkin said, in the form of a potential referendum.
Not all states have the personal property tax on vehicles, and Virginia is at or near the highest rate among the 27 states that do have it. Twenty-three states — including Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York and New Jersey, plus Washington D.C. — have no annual vehicle tax at all.
“It seems to me that if they can do it without all the infusion of federal dollars such as the military brings into this area from the Department of Defense,” Dean said, “then we should certainly be able to phase it out.”
Tax rates vary in the seven cities of Hampton Roads. Virginia Beach has the lowest rate at 4%, or $4 per $100 of valuation. Chesapeake is next at $4.08, followed by Suffolk ($4.25), Norfolk ($4.33), and Hampton and Newport News (both at $4.50). Portsmouth has the highest rate at $5 per hundred. (Municipalities also offer some measure of car tax relief on the first $20,000 of valuation.)
“It’s over $30 million in our budget. It’s a significant amount,” said Portsmouth Commissioner of the Revenue Franklin Edmondson. He says the funds are vital to keeping Portsmouth competitive not only for city services but attracting quality job candidates.
“We don’t want the last and the least to come to Portsmouth. We want the best and the brightest. We want to offer a fair employment package,” he said.
Virginia Beach currently generates about $172 million from the tax. Chief Deputy Commissioner of the Revenue Eric Schmudde says it can afford to charge a lower rate because of a bigger tax base with more vehicles to tax.
“The rate and the value will dictate how much revenue is raised. I think some of it could be the value of the vehicles in Virginia Beach are just a little higher than those in Portsmouth,” he said.
Pleasure boats are taxable too, but at a far lower rate. “A millionth of a cent,” Schmudde said. Because the tax is in the Virginia Constitution, local governments must charge something. But they can also set the rate, and it creates a massive disparity between the tax charged on a car and a boat.
For example, if your car’s assessed value is $25,000 in Virginia Beach, you’ll pay about $640 a year with current discounts. If your pleasure boat is assessed at 10 times that value — a quarter of a million dollars — your personal property tax bill is essentially three cents a year.
Office equipment is also subject to the tax. Any equipment used in the operation of an office such as computers, desks, chairs, etc. is taxed at the same rate as a vehicle. However, if you’re a manufacturer in Virginia Beach, you get the same low rate as a pleasure boat owner, a millionth of a cent.
Dean says the time is now to put pressure on Richmond to consider eliminating the tax over time or reducing it.
“I think there’s a great opportunity here to phase it out and I would love to see Youngkin work with all of us,” he said.
Dean says he will take his campaign to get rid of the personal property tax to the board of his Libertarian Party as well as the Tea Party, Republican women’s groups and the Democratic Party of Virginia Beach.