By Marc Caputo
Published November 24, 2007
TALLAHASSEE -- Continuing to bash a property-tax plan he reluctantly voted for, House Speaker Marco Rubio is now urging supporters to back a citizens' petition to cap the total amount of taxes paid by every property owner.
The proposed constitutional amendment would limit the amount of taxes a property owner pays to 1.35 percent of the value of his property. So, a home or business with a taxable value of $100,000 would pay a total of $1,350 to all local governments and school districts.
If the backers get enough voter petition signatures, the proposal could end up on the November 2008 ballot and wouldn't conflict with the Jan. 29 vote to decide the Legislature's plan to boost homestead exemptions and allow homeowners ''portability'' to transport homestead exemptions to another residence.
Rubio reiterated in a Tuesday e-mail to supporters that the legislative plan ''falls short'' and that ``only a citizen-led petition drive will ever result in meaningful tax reform and relief.''
To that end, Rubio said that this proposal offered by Tampa-based Cut Property Taxes Now offers the best solution because people could understand the measure and it significantly cuts property taxes. Homeowners now benefit from the Save Our Homes cap that limits increases in the taxable value of their homes to 3 percent a year. But owners of commercial property and second homes don't have a cap and the cap doesn't limit taxes when a homeowner moves to a new house.
''This plan is simple, it applies to all properties, it keeps Save Our Homes and it cuts almost $8 billion in property taxes,'' the West Miami legislator wrote.
Those who live in high-value areas with low tax rates might see less savings under the plan because they're already paying a relatively lower percentage of tax than those in less wealthy areas. Legislative analysts estimate the statewide average tax percentage this year is about 1.65 percent, compared to the 1.35 percent that this petition seeks.
Rubio technically won't be campaigning against the Legislature's plan, which Gov. Charlie Crist is actively backing.
Crist this week met with business groups to shore up support for a campaign that could raise and spend upward of $10 million. The governor-backed group, Yes on One, is also mounting an advertising and campaign blitz, and the governor's deputy chief of staff, Arlene DiBenigno, is taking a leave to run the campaign.
The citizens' petition isn't the only one that Rubio will be involved with, though. He has lent the House staff to help Carlos Lacasa prepare a constitutional amendment for review by the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission. Lacasa, a Miami lawyer, is Rubio's appointment to the tax panel, which has the power to put constitutional amendments directly on the November 2008 ballot without going through the cumbersome petition signature drive that Cut Property Taxes Now must follow.
Lacasa is working on a plan to cap property taxes for commercial property and give homeowners a super-size homestead exemption that far exceeds the current $25,000 exemption.
Rubio will likely raise money and support any measure that would bring big tax cuts, said his top legislative lieutenant, Rep. David Rivera of Miami.
''He wants to cut property taxes, and a lot of people do, and he wants to help them,'' Rivera said.
Rubio has a distant hometown connection to Cut Property Taxes Now: Ira Paul, a Hialeah teacher who was part of a previous group named Cut Property Taxes Now that placed television ads against Weston Mayor Eric Hersh for his successful lawsuit that knocked out yet another legislative plan.
On the committee's website, cutpropertytaxesnow.com, the backers also take Crist to task for failing to make good on his pledge to have taxes ``drop like a rock.''
The committee anticipates the biggest challenge to the measure will come from people who fear cutting money from schools. However, in its frequently asked questions section, the supporters say school money shouldn't be cut too badly because the Legislature will be able to decide what portion of the property-tax pie schools could receive.
The website also notes that local governments have dramatically increased spending since 2000, and that this plan doesn't affect Save Our Homes, the tax plan that limits tax-assessment increases to a maximum 3 percent a year.
The biggest enemy to the proposal right now is time: Backers need 611,000 voter signatures by Feb. 1 to get the measure on the November 2008 ballot.
Rubio urged people to get friends, family and church members to go to the website and download and sign the petition. But, he said in October, it is unlikely any citizens' petition drive will be completed before the 2010 ballot.
Even if the matter winds up on the ballot, it faces another test: It must win approval from 60 percent of the voters.
GO HERE FOR THE WEBSITE: http://www.cutpropertytaxesnow.com/