Property tax rollbacks are proposed

Gov. Crist proposed a special election to give Florida voters a chance to lower their property taxes.


Article Courtesy of The Miami Herald

By MARY ELLEN KLAS
Published January , 2007

Calling soaring property taxes one of the most crippling challenges facing Floridians, Gov. Charlie Crist proposed a constitutional amendment Tuesday that would cut property taxes by as much as $4.7 billion a year and urged legislators to put it on the ballot in a special election.

The key aspects of the governor's proposal: allowing homeowners to take their property tax savings with them when they move to another home anywhere in the state; doubling the homestead exemption for homeowners, and capping taxes on businesses and non-homestead residential property such as rentals.

The governor's suggestion comes on the heels of a successful legislative effort to curb property insurance costs and underscores the issues that legislative leaders have said will be their top priority when they meet in regular session in March.

SPECIAL ELECTION

House Speaker Marco Rubio has already called for a special election on a constitutional amendment, and House and Senate leaders have launched a campaign to hear voter concerns.

''Now it's time for our next step, and the next step is for Florida homeowners to ease their property tax burden,'' Crist said Tuesday. "It's time to return tax dollars to the people.''

Crist said he will leave it to legislators to work out the details of his proposals, but he outlined the following priorities:

 Allow counties to double the homestead exemption from $25,000 to $50,000 -- the first change in the bedrock tax break for Florida homeowners since the 1980s. Estimated total yearly tax cut: $1 billion.

 Make the Save Our Homes property-tax cap portable, so that homeowners may transfer their existing tax rate to a new home anywhere in the state. Estimated total tax cut annually after the fifth year: $2.5 billion.

 Place a 3 percent yearly cap on the assessed value of commercial and other non-homestead property, allowing businesses and owners of rental property the same break that homeowners receive from the Save Our Homes amendment passed in 1992. Estimated total tax cut: $1 billion.

 Exempt small businesses from the tangible personal property tax on computers, equipment and office furniture valued at less than $25,000. Estimated annual total tax cut: $200 million.

The governor's proposal goes beyond his original campaign promise to pursue the doubling of the property tax exemption.

Critics had said Crist's original plan would push more of the property tax burden onto business and exacerbate an already inequitable system.

Crist said he was not concerned that the tax cuts will leave less money for counties and cities to provide local services.

''Counties and cities have had an explosion of money,'' Crist said.

He estimated that over the past five years local government budgets have increased by as much as $22 billion in new revenue, "far outstripping the cost of living here.''

''What they will do is have to become more disciplined,'' he said.

COUNTER ARGUMENT

Cities and counties counter that total state taxation under the Legislature's control increased from $23 billion to $40 billion in the same period.

The governor said he will leave the details of his ideas to be ''hashed out in a legislative session'' and that "what the final product will be, we're not sure.''

"My greatest concern is that we lower property taxes, that we give people relief.''


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