Tax crusader has new plan

Ken Wilkinson, the father of the Save Our Homes cap, is revving up another amendment drive to make the property tax break portable.

Published September 21, 2006

ORLANDO - Like it or not, the man you can thank for Save Our Homes is at it again.

On the heels of a statewide tax revolt, Lee County Property Appraiser Ken Wilkinson said Wednesday that he will lead a petition drive to make the 3 percent property tax cap he created portable.

Wilkinson told Gov. Jeb Bush's 15-member Property Tax Reform Committee that he never thought people would be "trapped" in their homes because of the original 1992 constitutional change.

That Save Our Homes, Wilkinson said, was to protect people, like his 86-year-old mother, who were being taxed out of their property.

"This one, I'm selfish about," said Wilkinson, who hopes to move out of his Fort Myers condominium.

Wilkinson's plan, which he calls "Save Our Homes, Part 2," would allow homeowners to carry over the same percentage of savings that the Save Our Homes cap of 3 percent now provides.

For example, a homeowner who has a $400,000 home, but only pays taxes on $200,000 because of the cap, would be able to move that 50 percent savings to a new home anywhere in Florida. If the person bought a $600,000 home, then, the new assessed property value would be 50 percent less - $300,000.

The difference between the assessed and market values, however, would be capped at $400,000, Wilkinson said.

That feature is a pre-emptive strike against his critics, Wilkenson said. He predicted that some will say his new plan, just like his old one, benefits the state's wealthiest homeowners.

What Wilkinson's plan would not do: protect first-time homeowners, second homeowners or commercial properties.

Bush's tax reform committee is expected to make recommendations to the governor by the end of the year. Some form of portability appeared to be gaining momentum Wednesday.

"It's going to happen," said state Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, a Republican on the committee from Miami. People "are going to have to get on board, whether they like it or not."

Part of "our charge," said committee member Cynthia Shelton, "is to find a way that we can be fair to all property owners in the state of Florida."

Wilkinson, 62, vowed never to take on the government again. That was in 1992, after the Save Our Homes amendment passed with 54 percent of the vote. After he had to raise $250,000. After three trips to the Supreme Court. And after Wilkinson helped gather 400,000 petition signatures to put the question before Florida voters.

But Wednesday, he was back, telling flat jokes about his bald head and playing to a crowd of angry property owners. He had to react, he said, because the Florida Legislature failed to pass similar protections it considered this year.

"He's a true politician," said Pinellas County Property Appraiser Jim Smith. "He knows what he's doing."

Wilkinson used the committee meeting to launch his initiative, though he had been called to testify about the original Save Our Homes amendment.

That tax cap has fallen under fire from second homeowners and commercial property owners, who feel they are paying an unfair share of property taxes.

Wilkinson unabashedly defended the cap.

"Yes, it's inequity, but the inequity addressed was far more egregious," Wilkinson said. "The people moving here created the problem ... and if you created the problem, you should pay."

Wilkinson may need as many as 700,000 signatures to place Save Our Homes, Part 2, on a statewide ballot in 2008. His group, Save Our Homes Portability, Inc. will form a Web site and start collecting signatures, he said.

Aaron Sharockman can be reached at asharockman@sptimes.com or 727 892-2273.

Ken Wilkinson

Elected Lee County property appraiser in 1980, re-elected since. A Republican, Wilkinson wrote and led the Save Our Homes tax cap campaign in 1992. In 1997, Lee County became the first property appraiser's office to make mapping searches available online. In 2002, he admitted to having an affair with his then chief deputy.


Wilkinson's plan: Transfer the Save Our Homes cap on taxable home value to a new home, up to $400,000.

Example: If a property has a market value of $400,000 and an assessed value of $200,000, a homeowner could transfer that difference, as a percentage, to a new home. In this example, the new home will be capped initially at 50 percent of the market value. The savings below market value could not exceed $400,000.