Governor's proposal has rollback, portability, no sales hike

Published April 26, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - Under pressure to weigh in on the property tax debate, Gov. Charlie Crist outlined a plan Wednesday to cut $33.5-billion over five years without increasing sales taxes.

The plan includes a rollback and cap on local government, doubling the $25,000 homestead exemption and allowing people to transfer Save Our Homes benefits to new homes.

"Some (lawmakers) have come to me and said, 'A little more guidance from the executive branch might not be a bad thing,' " Crist said.

Two hours later, his two-page proposal was circulating in the Capitol.

It arrived as the House and Senate met for a third day and continued to wrangle over huge differences in their plans.

The night ended on a tense note, with the House insisting that the Senate provide specific dollar figures on savings for homeowners, and the Senate saying the House was not negotiating in good faith.

The overall savings under Crist's plan are double what the Senate proposed but are smaller than the House's projections of at least $47-billion. But it does not involve raising the state sales tax to mitigate huge cuts to local budgets, as House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-Miami, has sought.

Rep. Dean Cannon, the lead House negotiator, was unfamiliar with the details, but when told the savings were considerably less, he played off Crist's fondness for populist language.

"We would hope he would want to cut the people's taxes as much as we want to cut the people's taxes," the Winter Park Republican said.

Crist's plan calls for:

- Rolling back local government tax bases to 2003. That would save taxpayers an average of $340 next year, and $1,987 over five years. Schools, water management districts and hospital districts would not be affected.

- Doubling the homestead exemption to $50,000.

- Save Our Homes portability. Homeowners could carry the accrued benefits of the 3 percent cap on annual assessments to new homes.

- A 25 percent tax reduction for first-time home buyers.