The tax exemption for seniors aged 65 or over who've owned their homes for 10 years or longer was passed by voters as a constitutional amendment in 2000 -- the same year as Amendment 23 passed. The voters were feeling generous. But the amendment gave the legislature the power to set the amount of the exception wherever they choose. 2009 isn't the first time the legislature has "zeroed it out." During the recession in 2003 it was eliminated for two years. The Governor is asking the legislature to set the amount at zero for two additional years, saving $90 million in the upcoming budget year.
This tax exemption was well-intentioned, but could have been better thought out. Its best feature is deference to the legislature to set the amount, and we should leave it at zero. A more targeted approach would be means-tested and designed to allow low-income seniors age in place in their homes, and offer more flexibility to those who move into smaller or safer homes or care centers. Rather than bring back the tax credit in the constitution, I'd like to see a tax break targeted for those most in need.