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Politics

Senate rushes through tax rollback

Now comes the hard part, reconciling sharp differences with the House property tax plan.

By ALEX LEARY and SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER
Published April 20, 2007


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TALLAHASSEE -- The Florida House spent two days this week debating its tax plan, airing sharp differences between Republicans and Democrats before a final vote.

On Thursday, the Senate took only minutes to pass its proposal. Unanimously. Without debate.

"What happened here today was just an awesome feat," said Sen. Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden. "We said all along we're working toward a unanimous vote, and we did it. Thanks to every one of you in this chamber for solving a major problem in this state."

It's not that easy, of course. Now comes the hard part of working out a compromise plan.

The Senate plan approved Thursday has several components:

  • Rolling back local government tax bases to 2005 levels, with a one-year freeze on growth followed by a cap on future revenue collection.
  • Allowing homeowners to carry the Save Our Homes benefit, a 3 percent cap on annual assessment increases, to new dwellings anywhere in the state. The cap would increase to 10 percent for several years before leveling off at 3 percent annually.
  • Increasing the homestead exemption to $50,000, for first-time home buyers. It applies to homes worth $100,000 and up.
  • Exempting the first $25,000 of business equipment from a tax on tangible property.
  • Limiting commercial property assessments to current use, not the highest potential market value.

Senate leaders put the savings over five years at $12.3-billion. They argue their plan offers wide relief to primary homeowners, renters needing a leg up to own a home, and businesses.

The brevity of the discussion Thursday took some by surprise, but senators defended their action, which came a week after the plan was announced. The House spent a couple of months working out its proposal.

"We had the Democrats' plan melded in; we had the Republican plan. What was there to argue about?" said Sen. Steve Geller, D-Hallandale Beach. "I believe the House was pretty clearly deeply divided."

The House plan approved Wednesday calls for a rollback to 2001, along with a cap. A broader and more controversial proposal would abolish all property taxes on primary homes in exchange for a 2.5-cent increase in the sales tax. Voters in each county would have to approve the sales tax hike.

The House claims its plan would save taxpayers $35-billion over five years.

Despite huge differences, leaders of both chambers say they are confident something can be worked out before the session ends May 4.

"We want to solve this; we don't want to come back," said Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Melbourne. "We want to be with our families. With two weeks left in session, we can get this done."

[Last modified April 20, 2007, 06:50:42]


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