Brown and Piotrowski: Tax reform should tax the wealthy

Published: Friday, January 25, 2008 at 10:16 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 25, 2008 at 10:16 a.m.

Amendment 1, which the Florida Legislature has put on our January 29 election ballot, promises property tax relief for working families but turns out to be a giveaway to the rich and carries with it the promise of huge budget and service cuts by cities and counties throughout Florida.

Hit with new higher home insurance rates, not to mention high gas prices, homeowners are feeling pinched. But this amendment fixes neither problem. Little wonder, it is not aimed at the normal homeowner and does little to ease their pain.

Instead, Amendment 1 is designed as a bailout for speculators who built a lot of condos they can't get rid of now.

"Maybe," these developers are thinking, "if we can cut property taxes in Florida, especially on 2nd and 3rd homes, we can unload these things." So they went to the legislature to ask for a little help.

The new law would cap assessment increases on non-homestead property at 10 percent a year, meaning that the owners of second homes will be protected from paying taxes on the full value of their property.

The amendment will double the homestead exemption, so it looks like it would save working families a little money, $240 a year on average. But the projected $8 billion cities and counties stand to lose over the next five years because of Amendment 1 will need to be made up somewhere.

That means the true cost of the average of $240 that a homeowner might save in this boondoggle will be paid out again in increased local user fees, impact fees and tuition costs, or in slashed public services-such as police, fire and emergency services, road repair and construction, parks, and schools.

And we've already seen what this might look like for folks in north Florida.

In the first few weeks of this year Alachua County has increased its gas tax by 5-cents per gallon and both the University of Florida and Santa Fe Community College are facing huge budget cuts.

Amendment 1 is part of a continuing hangover from Jeb Bush's governorship, which overwhelmingly benefited the wealthiest Floridians.

First, then-Governor Bush cut taxes $40 billion at the state level, and got rid of the only tax that really hit the very rich, the Intangibles Tax. This tax was fair because it taxed the rich for wealth accumulated by sitting on their butts, rather than taxing money generated through labor. But Jeb and his rich friends felt the bite, so that had to go.

Then, having slashed government programs to the bone, the state ordered counties and cities to take up the slack. Remember "unfunded mandates"? Yeah, they imposed a lot of those on cities and counties.

To deal with all the work that the state was no longer doing, local municipalities raised the rates at which they were taxing homeowners.

Since the legislature refuses to tax corporations and the well-to-do in our state with their second and third homes and beachfront condos the counties and cities had to take on new responsibilities and have, in many cases, maxed out what they can levy on local homeowners.

And now with Amendment 1, the Legislature is creating a dangerous catch-22 for cities and counties. Having shifted costs down to local level, the Legislature will, with Amendment 1, cap what municipalities can raise through property taxes, leading to millions more in cuts on the local level.

They claim it will "hold the schools harmless," but over 5 years, the schools will lose either $1.5 billion or $2.36 billion...that's with a "B." The figure is imprecise because no one actually knows how bad it will be.

After Jeb Bush's reign, corporate taxes are now the lowest in state history and we have the 3rd most regressive tax scheme in the nation. This means that working families have to pay a three-to-five times greater share of our earnings in taxes than the wealthiest Floridians do.

The Legislature needs to tax those who can most afford it. Florida has plenty of people who fall into that category, we are home to the 4th wealthiest population in the country. They enjoy our beaches, our weather, they should pay their fair share in to support our communities.

Jenny Brown and Mark Piotrowski are co-Chairs of the Alachua County Labor Party

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