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Youngkin Vetoes Measures to Remove Tax Breaks for Confederate Heritage Group

Gov. Glenn Youngkin of Virginia vetoed two bills Friday that would have revoked tax exemptions granted to 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 have almost unanimously opposed the bills and efforts by state Democrats to restrict the Commonwealth’s relations with Confederate heritage organizations. The bills enjoyed nearly unanimous Democratic support in both houses of the Legislature. (A Democrat did not participate in any of the votes.)

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

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

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

Alex Askew, a Democratic delegate who introduced one of the bills, called the governor’s vetoes “confusing.”

“Virginia residents deserve to know why the governor is providing tax breaks to historically pro-slavery institutions,” Askew said in a statement, adding: “Let’s work toward a fairer, more inclusive tax policy that truly reflects our commitment in favor of slavery. equality and progress.

Had Mr. Youngkin signed the bills, two other entities, the Stonewall Jackson Memorial Inc. and the Confederate Memorial Literary Society, would also have been threatened over their property tax exemptions.

“The governor has always worked in a direction that would allow him to win the affection of the Republican base,” Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, said in April after the assembly passed the bills. He added that because of political and cultural changes in Virginia in recent years, he expects the tax exemptions to be revoked the next time a Democrat becomes governor.

The Confederacy’s legacy is still contested in the state that once contained its capital. In Charlottesville and Richmond, statues and monuments to Confederate figures have been torn down over the past decade, but earlier this month a rural school district reinstated the names of Confederate officers at two schools, four years after voting for their removal.

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

With his veto of tax exemption bills, Mr. Youngkin prevented the headquarters of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, a marble-clad building in Richmond, from becoming subject to the property tax. The building, which also serves as a memorial to the Confederacy’s women of war, opened in 1957 and has been listed for tax code exemptions ever since.

The organization, which is identified as the owner of the property, would have become responsible for paying the taxes if a law had revoked the exemptions, according to Parrish Simmons, a representative for the Richmond Property Appraiser. The taxes could have totaled more than $53,000 a year.

The United Daughters of the Confederacy did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but members were present at the podium when the House passed the bill in February. The women were introduced by Wren Williams, a Republican delegate who voted against both bills; Mr. Williams did not respond to a request for comment.

In a public online comment opposing one of the bills, Susan McCrobie, head of the organization, said a property tax burden would threaten the “pursuit of the purposes and objects for which our organization exists.”

Since its founding in 1894, the group has been open to membership by women descendants of Confederate soldiers. Although the stated goal of the United Daughters of the Confederacy is to honor ancestors through memorial preservation and charitable work, the organization is most commonly associated with Confederate statues, for which it raised funds for the construction throughout the 20th century, and which it still defends.

Ms. McCrobie said that if the bills became law, the organization and legislature would be “returned to the courts for adjudication.”

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 slim 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 bill’s goal was not to interfere with the charitable work of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, but to ensure that the state code better reflects modern values ​​of the Commonwealth.

Campbell Robertson reports contributed.

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