House panel votes to roll back property tax to 2001

Published March 17, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - Rejecting opposition from local governments, House Republicans on Friday voted to slash billions in property tax revenue from city and county budgets.

The proposal, which is only the first step toward making the cuts a reality, calls for rolling back property taxes to 2001 levels, with adjustments for inflation, population growth and a cap on future revenue collection.

It would shave an estimated 18 percent off the average property tax bill. But it would also strip $5.5-billion from local coffers and limit future spending.

Friday's vote by the House Policy and Budget comes as the Legislature and governor try to find a solution to the property tax problem. The Senate has yet to fully develop its proposals.

The 24-7 vote sent the bill to the full House. Three Democrats joined Republicans in support of the legislation (HB 7001).

"It didn't have to be this way," said Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale. "Local government could have recognized the windfall revenues generated by the real estate boom and it could have been returned to taxpayers long ago."

Republicans voted to leave three groups out of the property tax rollback: 30 rural counties with narrow tax bases, tax-supported public hospitals and child services councils, including one in Pinellas County. Those exemptions are about $300-million.

The proposed rollback is one of two plans House Republicans want to accomplish. Their top goal is a constitutional amendment to replace all property taxes on homesteads with a 2.5 percent increase in the sales tax.

That plan would incorporate the rollback but it would begin at 2003 levels, saving local governments millions. And the sales tax revenue would also be funneled back to cities and counties.

"It's going to be ugly," said Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard, who testified before the House last week. Clearwater officials estimate up to a $20-million loss. "We're going to have to look at closures of libraries, rec centers. We'll even have to review our community policing program," Hibbard said.

Staff writer Mike Donila contributed to this report.