Another tax cut unlikely this year as Democrats balk at Rubio's plans

Article Courtesy of The Palm Beach Post


Published January 30, 2008


Although Gov. Charlie Crist has promised that the successful property tax amendment Tuesday is just the first step, don't count on another property tax cut from the legislature this year.

Because that constitutional amendment is projected to cut $9.2 billion in property taxes during the next five years, Senate Minority Leader Steven Geller said he doesn't expect the state Senate to cut property taxes any further in 2008.

Geller, D-Hallandale Beach, pointed to the hits that local governments have been forced to take through a five-year, $15 billion property tax rollback mandate that the legislature passed last summer. And now the amendment will mean $7.7 billion less for counties, cities and special districts and $1.5 billion less for public school districts.

"We're not going to do more," Geller said.

That stance could stall the plans of state House Speaker Marco Rubio, who said Tuesday he planned to push for further property tax cuts regardless of whether the ballot measure passed.

"I think it's gone beyond just property taxes," Rubio said. "We have an affordability problem in Florida. I don't think this amendment ... is going to make Florida that much more affordable."

Rubio probably will push for a tax cut similar to one he has backed in the form of a citizens petition. The proposal would cut taxes by an estimated $8 billion by capping the total property taxes on any property at 1.35 percent of its taxable value.

But as of Tuesday morning, the group had collected only about 125,000 signatures, well short of the 611,000 signatures it needs by Friday to put the issue on the November general election ballot.

Rubio acknowledged that the proposal's success depends on whether he can find enough support in the Senate.

But one of his chief lieutenants, House Majority Leader Adam Hasner, R-Delray Beach, said voters' strong support for the amendment bodes well for future tax-cutting proposals.

"Today's vote is the first step, not the last, in providing the property tax relief that Florida's homeowners, businesses, families and seniors so desperately need," Hasner said. "It would be a serious mistake to think that the passage of Amendment One is the end, because the truth is this is just the first chapter of our effort to reform Florida's unfair and inequitable property tax system."

Meanwhile, state Rep. Carl Domino, the father of the idea to make Save Our Homes portable from one homestead to another, agreed with Geller that it would be tough to get property tax legislation passed in the Senate this year.

Domino, R-Jupiter, noted that the constitutional amendment required bipartisan support last year that might not be as strong this year. Because this is an election year, the minority-party Democrats may be less willing to cross party lines to pass Republican-sponsored legislation.

Crist's next move is unclear. Although the Republican governor repeatedly has referred to the amendment as a first step, he hasn't said what the next step would be - or whether he would be a part of it.

"We need to cut them more to be general and precise," he said in response to a question about what more he wanted done with property taxes.

Some are looking to the Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission for the next move.

The panel, which meets every 20 years to recommend changes to the state's tax system, can bypass the legislature and put constitutional amendments directly on the November ballot. Its chairman, former House Speaker Allan Bense, has said he would wait until after the primary to weigh in on proposals for cutting property taxes.

But there is little doubt that voter approval of the amendment is a victory for Crist, who is entering his second year in office.

He put himself at the center of the pro-amendment campaign. The plan that voters approved is the same one he advocated during his 2006 campaign to become governor.

It was shelved temporarily when legislators compromised on another proposed amendment that would have eliminated Save Our Homes and replaced it with a homestead exemption of as much as $195,000. But when a judge struck that amendment from the ballot, Crist pushed the legislature to replace it with this amendment in October. He has traveled the state ever since, urging voters to approve it.

His face dominated pro-amendment commercials, campaign literature and billboards, and he helped raise more than $4 million for the "Yes on 1" campaign.

"I feel a responsibility," Crist said recently. "This is something I think is very important to the state. I happen to be her governor. I wanted to do everything I could to help Florida and get this passed."

Supporters believed his popularity would translate into support for the amendment. But not everyone was so supportive.

Irv Slosberg, a House Democratic consultant and former state representative from Boca Raton, said he believes the tax amendment will hurt the governor. "I think he made a mistake," said Slosberg, who lost a bid for the state Senate in 2006.

"Property taxes aren't going to drop like a rock - maybe like a leaf," he said. "I don't think it will do much of anything except hurt some people."

Domino gave Crist credit for helping get the amendment passed.

"There's no question: He's provided genuine, real leadership," Domino said. "He's put himself on the line for this."