Save Our Homes not dying

Article Courtesy of The St. Petersburg Times

By Alex Leary

Published October 6, 2007


Lawmakers now admit any property tax plan must guard against big tax increases.

TALLAHASSEE - They tried to kill off Save Our Homes, perhaps on the sly, but lawmakers now generally agree that if a new property tax plan goes before voters on Jan. 29, it will have to preserve the popular protection against big tax increases.

That is one of the developments from a week of hushed discussion on property taxes that have taken place amid a special session on the budget and auto insurance.

Consensus is also growing around a "portability" plan to allow people to carry the accrued savings under Save Our Homes to a new home.

The end result could be more significant tax cuts than had been proposed.

"In a time when people's taxes keep going up, it's very difficult to go to voters and convince them they should let go of a security blanket like Save Our Homes," House Speaker Marco Rubio said Friday.

"Now you can argue that it's bad policy for the state of Florida, that it's led to some of the problems," the Miami Republican added. "But the truth of the matter is, people like Save Our Homes."

The perspective is shared by Democrats and Gov. Charlie Crist, making it very likely the Save Our Homes 3 percent cap on annual assessment increases will survive.

Some sort of tiered homestead exemption is likely to be part of any new tax plan as well as an end to an assessment practice known as highest and best use, which can lead to higher taxes for businesses simply because the land could be used for something more lucrative.

Lawmakers also may seek additional revenue caps for local government and make it harder for them to break those caps, as some have since the Legislature imposed a rollback in June.

That lawmakers are even discussing taxes again is the result of a court decision striking from the Jan. 29 ballot a plan that would have phased out Save Our Homes in favor of super homestead exemptions. The judge found the ballot language was misleading because it did not clearly state the demise of Save Our Homes.

The state has appealed the decision, though it does not seem too worried about moving it along. As of Friday, the grounds for the appeal had still not been submitted to the court.

Another special session - the fourth this year - will be called some time later this month to address property taxes.

Despite the wide array of options and a time crunch of Oct. 30 to get something on the January ballot, top negotiators are confident something can be done.

"We're wiser and smarter," said Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park. "We know what judges think. We know what people think. We know every combination has been tested. So I'm optimistic that it will be a lot easier this time."