Rodney J. Long: Amendment 1 isn't true tax reform

Published: Sunday, January 27, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 26, 2008 at 5:54 p.m.

On Tuesday, Jan. 29, you the voters will decide on Amendment 1. It is a complicated issue. Part of what elected officials in Tallahassee are counting on is that the average citizen will not have the time to research the issue.

I encourage all citizens to learn about Amendment 1. If you do, you will discover that it is not true tax reform. You will learn that

Amendment 1 gives the group that is already sheltered from high property taxes - longtime homesteaders - even more shelter and leaves nonhomesteaded taxpayers, such as commercial property owners, second homeowners and renters, out in the cold.

Let's examine Amendment 1 point by point:

Double the $25,000 homestead exemption (skipping $25K-$50K):

The homestead exemption does not "double" because the school board tax, which is about one third of your property tax bill, is exempt from this second $25,000. This item does nothing for nonhomesteaded taxpayers.

Allow portability of Save Our Homes tax savings:

Save Our Homes has created inequities: Nonhomesteaders pay more taxes for the same services than homesteaders. In fact, depending on their Save Our Homes equity, they could pay next to nothing.

For example, a person who has a $500,000 portability savings could purchase a home for $450,000 in Alachua County, and pay no taxes for services. Is that fair?

Tangible Personal Property exemption of $25K for businesses:

Commercial property owners for years have seen their property assessments rise with no caps, while homesteaded properties were capped at 3 percent. Businesses are given "tax relief" that comes out to only about $20 per month.

Assessment value cap on nonhomesteaders 10 percent:

This component best demonstrates how our tax system is broken. We are telling homesteaded property owners that they are capped at 3 percent and nonhomesteaded property owners that they are capped at 10 percent. We are continuing to support a system that is clearly unfair and arbitrary.

At a recent meeting, the County Commission approved the following language articulating its concerns about Amendment 1:

For a $240 average savings (about $20 per month), an estimated $10 million in revenue will be lost. This revenue pays for public safety, criminal justice programs, public infrastructure, social services, cultural programs and most services provided by local government.

Erosion of home rule: Legislators in Tallahassee, instead of local city and county commissioners, are making decisions affecting the destiny of Alachua County. This is an improper shift of local decision making to state government. The quality of life enjoyed in Alachua County will be determined in Tallahassee rather than by local leaders who are directly accountable to taxpayers and voters.

The inequities in Save Our Homes are actually widened. Needed tax relief to non-Save Our Homes taxpayers is minimal.

The Alachua County Commission supports true tax reform. Amendment 1 does not provide true tax reform.

True tax reform would include an overhaul of how property is valuated by property appraisers throughout the state of Florida. There needs to be a uniform method of valuating properties. An example of an inequity in the system is:

When you have a working waterfront property like a marina that is currently in operation, that property is not valued on the current use, but the highest and best use. The highest and best use may be condos valued between $250,000 and $500,000 a unit. The property is assessed at this value; Amendment 1 doesn't address this inequity.

If we are to have true property tax reform, then all the stakeholders should be at the table and all the items should be placed on the table for consideration, including the billions of dollars in tax exemptions for businesses in this state.

Former Senate President John McKay of the tax budget reform commission has proposed a constitutional amendment that would eliminate over $8 billion in tax exemptions.

True property tax reform would address the many unfunded mandates that have been shifted to local governments from the state legislature, such as additional Medicaid cost, cost of paying for juveniles in the state's detention center and the cost of adding physical education as a requirement by the school board. Our legislators can boast about reducing our property taxes, but we never hear about how they are asking our local

taxpayers to pay for their state programs.

True property tax reform does not take local decision making from those representatives who are closest to the people. Our citizens can attend our meetings, participate in our budget process and can always show their displeasure at the ballot box.

For these and other reasons, the Board of County Commissioners is asking the voters of Alachua County to vote no on Amendment 1 on January 29th.

Rodney J. Long is chair of the Alachua County Commission.

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