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Crist wide open on property tax fix

Published February 28, 2007


TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Charlie Crist said Tuesday he's not committed to any property tax reform ideas, and even refused to defend his own proposals.

The centerpiece of Crist's reform package, which he also made a campaign promise last year, is a proposal to double the exemption on homesteads - an owner's primary home - from $25,000 to $50,000.

House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-Miami, criticized that idea last week, saying it would "wipe out entire counties." Small rural counties, where property values are low, would be hardest hit.

"I'm not in the push-back mood," Crist said Tuesday when asked about Rubio's comments. "My objective is to lower property taxes for the people of Florida, and it doesn't necessarily have to be my idea." He said he was confident that the Legislature would find a consensus among a variety of suggestions. "I'm not wedded to any of those proposals."

The governor's plan also includes proposals that would allow homeowners to take the annual 3 percent property tax cap, provided through the Save Our Homes Amendment, with them when they move and add a similar cap for nonhomestead properties.

Rubio is pushing a different plan that would abolish property tax on homesteads and cap it for nonhomestead real estate. It also would raise the statewide sales tax from 6 percent to 8.5 percent to partly offset the property tax losses to local governments.

The proposals aim to lower property taxes driven up largely by higher real estate values and wide disparities in tax bills caused mainly by Save Our Homes. It has shifted the tax burden from longtime homeowners to new buyers and owners of second homes, rental and commercial properties.

Crist was unfazed by a lawsuit challenging the Save Our Homes Amendment, which took effect in 1994. It was filed Monday in state Circuit Court by a group of Alabama residents who own second homes in the Florida Panhandle and alleges that the amendment unconstitutionally shifts an unfair amount of the tax burden onto them and other owners of nonhomestead property.

Crist agreed that Save Our Homes should be more broadly applied but said, "I think the Legislature is going to come to the rescue."

[Last modified February 28, 2007, 01:17:06]

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