Lawmakers worry about rush to write property tax measure

Article Courtesy of The Palm Beach Post


Published October 16, 2007


TALLAHASSEE A bipartisan group of lawmakers Monday questioned whether the legislature's new property tax proposal was being rushed, if it would give cuts to wealthy seniors and whether it would contribute to a higher divorce rate in the state.

Despite sounding those alarms, a Florida House council unanimously approved the tax cut plan, as the legislature began its second attempt this year to modify the state constitution to reduce the property taxes that local governments can collect.

"We are going to a more and more subjective tax, that all of the sudden gives preferences to certain people and creates problems down the road," Rep. Frank Attkisson, R-St. Cloud, head of the House Government Efficiency and Accountability Council, said before voting for the package.

Attkisson, who helped write a proposal in the spring that would have eliminated taxes on primary homes, reluctantly agreed to support the most recent proposal, saying it was a first step toward deeper tax cuts later.

Other Republicans had different concerns.

"I personally think the divorce rate in the state of Florida is going to go up," said Rep. Julio Robaina, R-Miami.

Robaina was troubled about a provision that would give first-time homestead owners a 25 percent break on their assessment. That would decline over time as the homeowner's Save Our Homes benefit grows, and Robaina questioned whether a married couple would divorce and switch names on the homestead to receive a second tax cut.

Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, who is guiding the package through the House, shrugged off the worry.

"You write the ... best policy you can and then you deal with miscreants who try to abuse it afterward," Cannon said.

The bill, however, does take divorce into account.

A major provision would let homestead owners move their accrued Save Our Homes benefit to a new dwelling, known as portability. Under the bill, if two people left a jointly owned homestead, they would have to divide the savings from that property to take to separate homesteads.

Democrats on the House accountability council also questioned a provision that would eliminate property taxes for "low income" seniors. Republican leaders said that to qualify, "all household income" must be less than $23,604. It would be a more restrictive limit than current law for "low income" seniors to qualify for a double homestead exemption.

But Rep. Ron Saunders, D-Key West, said there would be a loophole unless lawmakers explicitly included assets.

Republicans on the council questioned whether GOP leaders were rushing the proposal. House and Senate leaders scheduled their fourth special session of 2007 to last from Friday until Oct. 29, but preliminary schedules show both chambers hope to finish writing the proposed amendment by Wednesday.

In June, lawmakers set a similar schedule. The product from that special session was struck down by a circuit judge, who ruled the ballot language was misleading. Under state law, lawmakers have until Oct. 31 to submit a question for the Jan. 29 election.

"You mess up one time, you may get a pass," Robaina said. "The second time our constituents, the people of the state of Florida, are not looking for us to rush through anything."