Voters in Three States Approve Homestead Tax Breaks for Veterans, Surviving Spouses

Voters in Louisiana, Oklahoma and Virginia overwhelmingly approved state constitutional amendments establishing or expanding homestead exemptions for veterans and their surviving spouses. [Oklahoma, Ballot Initiatives 770 and 771; Virginia, Proposed Amendment; Louisiana, Ballot Initiative 7, approved 11/4/14; Louisiana, Ballot Initiative 9, rejected 11/4/14]

Oklahoma voters approved two ballot measures related to the state's homestead exemption for veterans. The first, State Question 770, authorizes a homestead exemption where a qualifying veteran or surviving spouse acquires property after Jan. 1, but already owned another home that also qualified for the state's homestead exemption. Essentially, the measure allows a veteran or surviving spouse to sell their home and move to a new home without losing the exemption for that year.

The second Oklahoma measure, State Question 771, creates a new homestead exemption for the surviving spouses of military personnel who die in the line of duty. The U.S. Department of Defense would determine whether the veteran died in the line of duty, and if so, the surviving spouse would receive a full exemption for the homestead as long as the spouse does not remarry. This exemption becomes applicable in 2015, and may be transferred from one homestead to another provided the spouse remains unmarried.

Both Oklahoma measures, which more than 90 percent of voters approved, were authorized by H.B. 2621, passed by the Legislature in May.

A Virginia ballot measure regarding homestead exemptions for veterans also passed overwhelmingly, with 87 percent approval. Virginia's ballot question essentially provides the same homestead exemption as Oklahoma's State Question 771—an exemption for real property owned by the surviving spouse of a member of the U.S. Armed Forces who was killed in action, as long as the spouse has not remarried.

Louisiana Amendment 7, which was approved by 74 percent of voters, provides a homestead exemption for veterans, and surviving spouses of veterans, with service-connected disability ratings of 100 percent, or who are rated totally disabled based on individual unemployability by the Department of Veterans Affairs. The exemption covers up to $150,000 of the home's value.

Lastly, Louisiana voters narrowly rejected, by a 53 percent to 47 percent margin, Amendment 9, which would have excluded owners with permanent and total disabilities from having to annually certify their incomes to their assessors in order to receive special assessment rates for property tax purposes.

By:  Michael Kerman and Jeff Day​