A 20-year veteran of the U.S. Navy who is now serving in the State Legislature wants to eliminate up to $5,000 from the amount some U.S. military veterans pay in property taxes.
Rep. Benjamin Hymes (R-Waldo) has introduced LD 1737, “An Act to Provide up to $5,000 in Property Tax Relief to Veterans,” a bill that would overhaul the property tax relief program currently available to disabled veterans and veterans over the age of 62.
Rep. Hymes said he was motivated to introduce the bill after a conversation with Travis Mills about the inadequacy of Maine’s current property tax program for veterans.
Mills, U.S. Army veteran and quadruple amputee, runs a vacation retreat for military families in Maine and is a successful entrepreneur.
Under Maine’s current rules, Mills is eligible for the highest level of relief the state offers for disabled combat veterans.
But that simply means he doesn’t pay property taxes on the first $50,000 of his property valuation.
Depending on the municipal mil rate, that’s not a very big benefit.
In Cape Elizabeth, for example, which has the one of the highest property tax rates in Maine, the benefit for a quadruple amputee (with a purple heart and a bronze star) would amount to just $730.
That’s not a very big “thank you for your service.”
And Mills only gets that small level of exemption because he received a federal grant for a specially adapted home as the result of his substantial combat injuries.
U.S. veterans who are 100 percent disabled or older than 62, but who did not receive the federal grant as amputees, are eligible to have taxes eliminated on the first $6,000 of their home’s value.
That’d be less than $150 in Cape Elizabeth.
Hymes said exempting $6,000 of a home’s value from the property tax made since when the original law was passed in the 1970s and the average home cost less than $55,000.
Hymes bill would change the structure of the veteran benefit to make it apply to a property tax bill rather than exempting a certain amount of a property’s value. Under LD 1737, the property tax benefit for disabled veterans would be tied to their disability rating from the military.
“So if you owe $3,000 in property taxes and are 50 percent disabled you get $1500 off,” said Hymes.
For disabled veterans of any age and veterans over the age of 62, the bill would significantly decrease property tax bills.
Rep. Ben Collings (D-Portland) has a bill that would double the current exemption level from $6,000 to $12,000, while leaving the structure of the program intact.
Hymes said there has been some interest from Democrats in Augusta around the bill, so he’s hopeful Collings might join him on LD 1737.
Other Republican lawmakers have pulled similar bills in order to unite behind Hymes’.
The other bill that would change property taxes for veterans comes from Senate President Troy Jackson (D-Aroostook).
Jackson’s bill would maintain the current structure, i.e. exempting $6,000 of a home’s value, for veterans over the age of 62. For veterans with service-connected disabilities, it would provide a 100 percent exemption from property taxes.
None of the bills have fiscal notes yet, so it’s unclear exactly how much money veterans would be allowed to keep in their own pockets rather than handing over to tax collectors if they passed.
Another major part of Hymes’ bill is the elimination of the requirement in current law that an eligible veteran must have served during a federally recognized war.
“There are vets that served 20 plus years and don’t qualify,” he said.
“My bill is designed to provide some property tax relief to lessen the burden of our oppressive state tax structure,” Hymes said. “This bill is one piece of an overall effort to lower taxes on all Mainers.”
The Joint Standing Committee on Taxation, which heard the bill, will now consider the proposed legislation and its potential impact on the veterans of Maine and the state’s tax structure.