United Daughters of the Confederacy would lose Virginia tax breaks, if Youngkin signs off

Feb 26, 2024, 1:54 PM

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Legislation that would end tax benefits for the United Daughters of the Confederacy — the Richmond-based women’s group that helped erect many of the country’s Confederate monuments — is on its way to Republican Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who hasn’t said whether he supports it.

The Democratic-led House of Delegates gave final passage Monday to a bill that would eliminate both a recordation and property tax exemption for the group. A separate, companion measure that reached final passage last week also eliminates those exemptions.

The bills have moved through the legislature with mostly party-line support and relatively little debate. The few individuals who have spoken out against the legislation have called it discriminatory, while supporters argued the tax benefits have amounted to state-sponsored subsidies for Confederate monuments and are out of line with 21st-century values.

“Since Virginia no longer supports the legacy of the Confederacy, we need to reflect that in our legislation,” Democratic Sen. Angelia Williams Graves of Norfolk, the sponsor of the Senate version of the bill, said in a legislative hearing.

The group for over a century has “spread the lie” of the Lost Cause — an ideology that downplayed the role slavery played in the Civil War — and “instilled fear in marginalized groups by erecting Confederate monuments around the United States,” Williams Graves said.

The nonprofit group, which owns a marble-clad Memorial Building positioned on a prominent Richmond boulevard with an assessed value of over $4.4 million, did not respond to requests for comment Monday.

But last week, it told TV station WRIC the state created the property-tax exemption in 1950, also extending “an offer of land in Richmond” to erect the Memorial Building.

The property tax exemption helps the group, which had members in the House gallery Monday, provide aid to other organizations, including the Wounded Warriors Project and homeless veterans organizations, the organization said.

“It is our hope that Governor Youngkin appreciates the complicated history of this organization,” the statement said. The group added that it wanted the governor to see the bill as an “unfair and unwarranted tax-reform bill targeting and punishing the United Daughters of the Confederacy for simply existing.”

Both bills would also end the property tax-exempt designation for two other groups related to the Confederacy: the Stonewall Jackson Memorial, Incorporated, and the Confederate Memorial Literary Society.

United Daughters of the Confederacy was founded in 1894, and is open to membership by female descendants of individuals who served in the Confederate military or who “gave Material Aid to the Cause,” according to the group’s website. The group denounces white supremacy, is “grieved” that certain hate groups have adopted the use of the Confederate flag, and believes Confederate monuments are part of “our shared American history and should remain in place,” its website said.

Articles and studies have found the group helped erect hundreds of monuments and other tributes to the Confederacy around the country. The group has also been involved in lawsuits in more recent years aimed at stopping the removal of monuments from public spaces.

Many of Virginia’s Confederate monuments have been removed since the passage of a 2020 law that gave local governments control over their fate.

Youngkin the removal of a massive statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from state property during his 2021 campaign. But he has said he believes monuments that are removed should be placed in museums or battlefields.

Youngkin will “review any legislation that comes to his desk,” said spokesman Christian Martinez when asked whether the governor supports the bills.

In 2022, a teenager launched the push to remove the group’s exemption, according to reporting from The Virginian-Pilot, bringing the issue to Democratic Del. Don Scott, who is now speaker of the House of Delegates.

Scott’s effort to repeal the benefits died last year — when the House was under Republican control — without a recorded vote after it was left in a committee.

House speakers preside over the chamber and typically don’t sponsor many bills. This year, the House version was carried by Democratic Del. Alex Askew, who represents parts of Norfolk and Virginia Beach.

“This bill does not attempt to challenge the UDC’s right to exist. It is not about free speech, about taking down monuments or which version of history is accurate. It’s about fairness and the financial priorities of the Commonwealth,” Askew said during a hearing, adding that the tax revenues being foregone now could help pay for schools, workforce development or mental health programs.

Several female speakers who testified against his bill in a subcommittee hearing argued that it unfairly targeted the group.

The Richmond Assessor’s Office told VPM News the group’s headquarters would be taxed at the city’s regular property tax rate if the bill passes. That would mean an annual tax bill of over $50,000.

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United Daughters of the Confederacy would lose Virginia tax breaks, if Youngkin signs off