LANSING -- Michigan's disabled veterans could get an expanded tax break.
A current law exempts disabled veterans from property taxes if a handicap- related accommodation to their home is made, such as installing a ramp or widening doors. A veteran doesn't have to be 100-percent disabled to receive this break.
A new proposal would also exempt totally disabled veterans from property taxes even without a change to their house.
The measure would apply to honorably discharged veterans who are totally and permanently disabled due to a military service-related illness or injury.
"It's broadening the definition of who can receive these benefits," said Hubert Hess, the deputy director of the State Department of Military and Veterans Affairs.
Hess said some veterans become disappointed when they find out an alteration to their house is required to qualify for the tax break. The legislation probably would increase the number of veterans claiming exemptions.
But the proposal has Cass County Veterans Affairs Director Fred Leet asking if the state can afford it. "I'm absolutely for it. Anything you do for a veteran is good, but everyone's budgets are so tight right now."
Hess said only 3,700 veterans in Michigan are fully disabled. He said his department can't determine how many veterans in the state take advantage of the existing exemption.
Deborah Koroch, finance director for the city of St. Joseph, said, "It depends on how many disabled veterans the community has, but it will have an impact on them and their budget."
Koroch said she isn't aware of any disabled veterans in St. Joseph because none has filed for the current exemption. The change might make people more aware of their options and some may come and file a claim.
"Anytime you're exempt from a taxation, you'll benefit," she said. "It just depends on how the laws are written and what hoops you have to jump through to get it."
Berrien County veterans affairs director Donald Olivia said the current law and the proposal would benefit disabled veterans. "A lot of disabled veterans are on fixed incomes, and being exempt from paying property taxes would relieve some of their expenses."
Terry Stanton, the public information officer for the Department of Treasury, said it's too early to tell how much of an impact the proposal would have on the budgets of local governments. "There's no plan yet on how it will work. We have to wait and see if it passes first."
Sen. Laura Toy, R-Livonia, introduced the proposal. Co-sponsors include Sens. Wayne Kuipers, R-Holland, Cameron Brown, R-Fawn River Township, and Tony Stamas, R-Midland.
Kuipers said, "It seemed to make sense, so I signed on as a co-sponsor. This is an opportunity for the state to say thanks to these people who risked their lives for our country."
Brown said he signed on because he felt it was important. He chairs the Senate State Police and Military Affairs Appropriations Subcommittee, and his father and two brothers are veterans.
"Our vets are America. This seemed to be the appropriate remedy of relief for them."
Sen. Jud Gilbert, R-Algonac, has introduced other veterans-related legislation to amend the income tax law. Under his proposal, benefits to military personnel wouldn't be subject to the state income tax.
© 2003, Capital News Service, Michigan State University
School of Journalism
© 2003, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism