Property tax relief may ride fast track
Published: Thursday, January 25, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 24, 2007 at 11:05 p.m.
TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Charlie Crist and Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio added their support Wednesday to the push for a special election this year on property tax relief instead of waiting until 2008.
Rubio said rapidly rising property taxes is one of the "twin threats" facing the state. The other is property insurance rates, climbing equally as fast if not quicker. Lawmakers responded to the insurance issue by passing legislation during a special session that ended Monday.
State and local taxing power, though, is controlled by the Florida Constitution and amendments must be approved by voters.
Holding off until the next regular election in November 2008 would mean reforms likely could not take effect until the following fiscal year, which would begin Oct. 1, 2009, for many local governments.
"I always feel patience is a virtue, but on this issue I hope we'll be a little impatient," said Rubio, R-Coral Gables.
Under Rubio's scenario, a special election would be held this summer, followed by a special session in September for lawmakers to pass implementing legislation. That way, the reforms would be in place before city and county budgets take effect Oct. 1.
Senate Finance and Taxation Committee Chairman Mike Haridopolos, R-Indialantic, had previously advocated a special election.
It would take a three-fourths vote in each chamber to put a proposal on the ballot this year, slightly more than the three-fifths needed if offered at a regular election.
The process may be clear, but the form tax relief would take remains murky.
Rising property values have driven up taxes for all property owners, but homeowners have been partly sheltered by a $25,000 homestead exemption and the Save Our Homes Amendment limiting their annual tax increases to 3 percent. But new homeowners, snowbirds and the owners of rental and business properties have no protection, and have seen their taxes skyrocket.
Also, Save Our Homes has caused another problem for homeowners because they lose their accumulated benefits if they move.
Lawmakers will begin drafting legislation after holding a series of town hall meetings across the state this month and next to hear comment from citizens and local officials.
The first meeting is today in Panama City. Others will be held in Jacksonville, Fort Lauderdale, Miami, Tampa, Fort Myers, Orlando and Lake Worth.
"We want people to see real savings, the kind of savings that will allow them to buy homes they can't afford to buy right now or to transact business that they can't afford to transact," Rubio told two Republican House leaders.
Rubio told Policy & Budget Council Chairman Ray Sansom of Destin and Economic Expansion & Infrastructure Council Chairman Dean Cannon of Winter Park that reform must benefit all taxpayers, not just homeowners.
He cited the example of a former neighbor, an 81-year-old widower who cannot afford to sell his four-bedroom home because he would pay higher taxes if he bought a smaller house.
Crist's campaign platform last year included doubling the homestead exemption to $50,000 and allowing homeowners to take Save Our Homes benefits with them when they move, an idea dubbed "portability."
Rubio said portability will likely be a cornerstone of any reform, but it must be more comprehensive and also offer relief to businesses and rental property owners.
Nearly all ideas are on the table, including the possibility of lowering or abolishing property tax while increasing the state's 6 percent sales tax to make up the difference, Rubio said.
He excluded, though, any proposals for offsetting property tax cuts with an income tax or by extending the sales tax to now-exempt services.
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