Posted on May 20, 2024

Youngkin Vetoes Measures to Remove Tax Breaks for Confederate Heritage Group

Anna Venarchik, New York Times, May 17, 2024

Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia vetoed on Friday two bills that would have revoked tax exemptions for the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a century-old organization that has often been at the center of debates over the state’s Confederate past and its racial history.

In doing so, Mr. Youngkin sided with fellow Republicans in the legislature who almost unanimously opposed the bills and the efforts by the state’s Democrats to curtail the Commonwealth’s relationship with Confederate heritage organizations. The bills had nearly unanimous Democratic support in both chambers of the legislature. (One Democrat did not participate in one of the votes.)

The organization’s property tax exemptions were added to the state code in the 1950s, during segregation and when the Commonwealth maintained a closer relationship with the group. The organization’s Virginia division is also exempt from paying recordation taxes, which are levied when property sales are registered for public record.

In a statement explaining his decision, Mr. Youngkin acknowledged that the property tax exemption was “ripe for reform, delineated by inconsistencies and discrepancies.” But, he said that the bills were too narrow, specifically targeting the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and approving them would set “an inappropriate precedent.”

Lawmakers who introduced the bills said that they had wanted to modernize the tax code to reflect the state’s current values; they also stated that the government should not support organizations that promote myths romanticizing the Confederacy. Critics of the legislation said that the bills unfairly targeted the United Daughters of the Confederacy, and claimed that the group and its purposes were misunderstood.

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The legislature also narrowly passed a bill to repeal special license plates featuring Robert E. Lee and the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a men’s heritage organization. Governor Youngkin also vetoed that bill on Friday.

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Legislative efforts to revoke the tax exemptions began in 2023, when Don Scott, a Democratic delegate, introduced a bill that failed in the House, which at the time had a narrow Republican majority.

In January, after control of the House flipped and Mr. Scott became Virginia’s first Black Speaker, Mr. Askew reintroduced the bill. In February, he said in an interview that the purpose of the bill was not to interfere with the United Daughters of the Confederacy’s charity work, but to make sure the state code better reflected the Commonwealth’s modern values.