Senate, House head for tax showdown ... maybe
nearing to get a final plan on January ballot
Article Courtesy of The Sun Sentinel
Published October 23, 2007
- Facing deadline pressure, the Florida House passed a reworked property
tax-cut plan with overwhelming bipartisan support on Monday, setting up a
showdown of dueling multibillion dollar tax-cut packages from the
Legislature's two chambers.
The House's $11 billion package spreads some of the benefits to
non-homestead property owners, who got clobbered by the run-up in real
estate values, and ties a new homestead exemption to home values in each
county, a move in part designed to provide bigger breaks to affluent areas
such as South Florida.
"Of all the bills we've considered, this is the one that has
something for everybody," said House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-West
Miami. "It targets the relief to people who need it the most."
The House's 108-2 vote moves the negotiations into a new phase:
Behind-the-scenes talks between a few top lawmakers in the House and
Senate, with a looming Monday deadline to agree on a tax-cut solution. The
issue's fate is far from clear. As the House approved its plan, state
senators were conspicuously absent from the Capitol.
Having passed a very different plan last week, senators are due back in
Tallahassee on Thursday at the earliest, if at all, with the Senate
showing little appetite to consider major changes made by the House to a
compromise worked out weeks ago.
"We do not know at this time whether you will need to return to
Tallahassee," Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, said in
a letter to state senators. It's an indication that if the House and
Senate can't reach a quick compromise, they might give up all together on
drawing up a new property tax plan.
The House won't reconvene until Thursday, leaving little time to turn the
competing proposals into a consensus package that could gain support from
the three-fourths majority in the Legislature needed to make it on the
Jan. 29 ballot.
Legislators are meeting in emergency session — their fourth special
session of the year — after a Tallahassee-area judge threw out a
previous property tax amendment on the grounds that it was misleading and
The House's version of tax cuts makes all permanent homeowners eligible
for a new homestead exemption equal to 40 percent of the median home value
in the county. This would be a $100,000-plus exemption in Broward and Palm
Beach counties, on top of the long-standing $25,000 homestead exemption.
Homeowners also would be able to transfer their tax savings when they
move, a measure called portability.
For businesses, landlords and snowbirds, the House bill places a
first-ever 5 percent a year assessment cap on their property values, in
what supporters described as an historic attempt to iron out inequities
caused by the 1992 Save Our Homes amendment.
A key to winning Democratic votes: Most of the plan's provisions exempt
public education from cuts. As a result, schools are projected to lose $1
billion over four years under the House plan — less than the Senate's
$1.5 billion hit.
"This is the proudest day that I've had in the Florida Legislature
since I've been elected," said Rep. Marty Kair, D-Davie. "We've
crafted a plan together that gives the people of Florida real, meaningful
and deep property tax relief. And we've done it in a way that provides
minimal hits to our public education system."
House members quickly moved to promote their tax-cut bill (SJR2D) as a
superior alternative to the Senate's version, pointing to the broad
bipartisan appeal as proof.
"We put it through a pretty rigorous test here in the House,"
Rubio said. "This is as tough a test as you'll find in politics. This
is a chamber where every imaginable constituency in Florida is
represented. And it passed, and it passed overwhelmingly."
Now, the question becomes: Will the Senate budge from its position?
Last week, the Senate stayed true to a deal hatched between Gov. Charlie
Crist and legislative leaders before the tax-cut session started Oct. 12.
The Senate's $9.7 billion plan doubles the $25,000 homestead exemption on
everything but school taxes, gives homeowners portability and provides a
25 percent discount for first-time home buyers.
Unbowed by the differences between the two chambers, Crist held a news
conference Monday to express his optimism that a deal would be struck.
"I think we're at a pretty good place," he said. "I think
there are some very, very good discussions going on, which is good for the