Poll: Voters dislike property-sales tax swap

Polled voters gave the thumbs down to the idea of replacing local property taxes with increased sales taxes, preferring deep budget cuts.

Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald

Published  March 31, 2007

TALLAHASSEE -- Florida voters think the proposal to replace local property taxes with a higher sales tax is a ''bad idea'' and that deep cuts in government budgets are a better alternative, a new poll released Thursday shows.

The poll, by the independent research arm of Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, found that voters reject the House Republicans' controversial idea to exchange property taxes for higher sales taxes -- but they like their idea of rolling back local government spending to 2001 levels.


The poll results are one more blow to the House tax-swap plan. The measure faces significant opposition in the Senate, where leaders have all but rejected it, and even in the House, where many Republicans privately say they don't want to vote for it.

Voters may offer some direction: According to the poll, they prefer the rollback idea, 69 percent in favor to 23 percent opposed, and oppose eliminating the property tax on primary homes and replacing it with a 2.5 cent increase in the sales tax, 48 percent in favor and 44 percent opposed.

A bare majority of voters, 52 percent, also agree with legislators' premise that the state tax burden is too high, compared to the 43 percent who believe taxes are where they should be. But there is no agreement on how to lower them.

When voters were asked if they are willing to accept lower government services in exchange for tax cuts, 49 percent of homeowners said yes, while 40 percent were opposed. Renters said they did not support cuts in services, 44 percent in favor compared to 40 percent opposed.

House Speaker Marco Rubio said he would have phrased the question differently: 'Do you support a constitutional amendment that would save you thousands of dollars in the taxes you now pay?'


House Speaker Marco Rubio said the poll results ''reaffirms this is a huge issue for Floridians.'' But he would have phrased the question differently, he said. He would have asked: "Do you support a constitutional amendment that would save you thousands of dollars in the taxes you now pay?''

''I know what the answer will be,'' he said.

The House plan would scale back property taxes by as much as $15 billion and replace it with up to $9.2 billion in sales taxes in a shift designed to place more of the state tax burden on tourists and to tax consumption, rather than property.

One idea that was popular among those surveyed: a constitutional amendment that would allow homeowners to take their ''Save Our Homes'' cap on tax assessments with them when they move; voters support such a ''portability'' concept, 62 percent in favor compared to 28 percent opposed.

Less popular: a plan to repeal the ''Save Our Homes'' cap, which gives longtime homeowners a 3 percent cap on the increase of their annual tax assessments. Voters supported that idea 46 percent to 44 percent, but that is within the survey's margin of error.

The poll of 1,061 Florida voters conducted March 21-27 had a margin of error of plus or minus three percentage points.


The poll also quizzed voters about Gov. Charlie Crist, and the results were overwhelmingly positive: The Republican governor won the approval of 82 percent of Republicans, 71 percent of Democrats and 71 percent of independent voters. One in five Florida voters still have not made up their minds.

''Florida voters think he has kept his word to lower their property insurance rates and are optimistic he will do the same to their property taxes,'' said Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute.

In an open-ended question, voters indicated that property taxes have surpassed property insurance as the top concern for most Floridians. And both issues are more important today than education -- a perennial top priority of voters on most polls in the past.

The survey also found what government and business groups have been telling lawmakers all month during the legislative session: Property tax relief should not be limited to homeowners.

Voters say small businesses also should get a tax break this year, with 70 percent favoring it and 24 percent opposing.

Most voters don't think renters and landlords deserve relief, however: Sixty-three percent opposed passing property tax breaks to renters and 54 percent opposed extending it to landlords.

Florida legislators have made property-tax cuts their top priority this session but, as they approach the half-way mark next week, they still have not reached a consensus on the best solution.