We need tax relief, fast

Article Courtesy of The St. Petersburg Times

By Marco Rubio -- Speaker of the House
Published  January 13, 2007

The American Dream has been described as many things. At its core, the American dream is composed of two basic hopes shared by people throughout the world: achieving financial security for themselves and their families, and leaving their children with a life better than their own.

Year after year, families from across America and across the world have made our state their new home. Here in Florida, free from stifling state income taxes and onerous sales and property taxes found elsewhere, they could afford to buy a home, start a business and send their kids to college.

Florida remains a land of promise, but we cannot ignore the threats that loom directly before us. The twin threats of unaffordable property taxes and unaffordable property insurance have a created a cost-of-living crisis in Florida.

Next week, the Legislature will convene in special session to address the first part of this crisis: property insurance. The seven hurricanes that battered our state over a 13-month period have left our insurance market a shambles. During this session, we hope to make comprehensive changes to our insurance regulations.

We are going to advance innovative ideas to make home insurance fairer and bring back our private insurance market for more competition and consumer choice. Among these changes should be a statewide building code, incentives to help Floridians harden their homes, and allowing Floridians to buy only as much insurance as they need and want. Perhaps the most significant change would be to allow the state to sell more reinsurance to private insurers at prices below market rate. In return, we should require insurers to pass those savings directly to consumers in the form of lower rates.

Addressing these issues will help to stabilize and hopefully lower the cost of property insurance. But addressing property insurance alone will not solve our cost-of-living crisis. We must also address the second threat facing our state: unaffordable property taxes.

First, our property taxes have been growing faster than our ability to pay for them and have begun to slow Florida's economic growth and inhibit housing affordability. Despite the Save Our Homes amendment voters added to our Constitution in 1992, property tax revenues in Florida have been growing faster than personal income since 2000. Since 2000, property tax levies have increased by 80 percent, compared to total personal income growth of 39 percent.

Second, our property tax system distorts the tax burden among different classes of property owners. We have limits on the amount that taxes can increase each year on homesteaded property, but there are no protections for rentals or business property, resulting in astronomical increases in property taxes.

Some will argue that these increases are justified. They will declare the cost of providing local government services has grown. They will maintain the demand on local governments has increased, and they will argue that the state has shifted costs to counties.

These rebuttals may or may not be valid, but they are immaterial. The bottom line is that when taxes, from any level of government, begin to rise faster than personal income, you have a recipe for economic disaster.

Government may be more expensive and there may be more demands on government than ever before, but government is supposed to work to support our people, not the people to support our government. You simply cannot provide more government than people can afford.

Increasingly, that is what we are doing now. We are asking small business owners to pay confiscatory tax increases on their property so we can fund economic development programs. We are asking the owner of a rental property to pass on enormous tax increases to his or her tenants so that we can fund housing programs. In short, we are asking the very people we are trying to help with government programs and services to fund these services and programs by paying taxes they can not afford to pay.

Patience is usually a virtue, but this is one issue I hope we are impatient about. We should place comprehensive property tax reform on the ballot for a special election early this summer so that Floridian's will experience property tax relief this year.

Marco Rubio, R-Miami, is speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.