No deal on property taxes; special session planned

Early edition: Property taxes is a highly emotional issue with many lawmakers, and many have sharply different definitions of what constitutes the “meaningful” and “immediate” tax relief most have demanded. Lawmakers will take up the issue again in June.

By Steve Bousquet and Alex Leary
Published May 2, 2007

TALLAHASSEE -- Florida lawmakers suspended all negotiations on cutting property taxes Wednesday and will return for a special session next month to try to break the logjam.

After a week-long impasse on the major policy issue of 2007, House Speaker Marco Rubio and Senate President Ken Pruitt made simultaneous declarations to their chambers, saying the subject of taxes is too crucial to risk getting wrong.“The issue it too important for our state and to our taxpayers for us to give them a product that we will not be proud of,” Pruitt told senators. “While we are disappointed, we have come a long way.”

House Speaker Marco Rubio interrupted discussion on university fee increases to break the news.

“The good news is I believe we have made tremendous conceptual progress in our conversations with our colleagues the senate. We can feel confident that property tax relief and reform is going to happen for Floridians and God willing, it’s going to happen this year,” he said.
“The bad news is, and it’s really not all that bad, is that in order to put this into practice 72 hours simply is not enough time.

Rubio said special session dates would not be set “unless we were confident that we can come up with something that is not only going to pass, but is going to work.”

The announcement highlights the continuing impasse between the House, which supports a radical swap of higher sales taxes in return for lower property taxes, and a more cautious Senate, which favors a tailored rollback of local property tax rates and a curtailment of future local government spending.

In the intense atmosphere of the final week of the session, it became clear that the more deliberative Senate was increasingly uneasy about rushing to a deal in the final 72 hours.

Early on, Senate leaders emphatically rejected Rubio’s call for a 2.5-percent sales tax increase in return for the elimination of property taxes on homesteads levied by cities and counties.

Gov. Charlie Crist has offered a third plan that borrows some elements of both the House and Senate proposals.

By forming a joint House-Senate conference committee on property taxes, lawmakers created a mechanism that might have produced a take-it-or-leave-it product, negotiated by only a few lawmakers and presented to both houses for an up or down vote.

But property taxes is a highly emotional issue with many lawmakers, and many have sharply different definitions of what constitutes the “meaningful” and “immediate” tax relief most have demanded.

The two leaders said the proper course of action was to end the regular 60-day session Friday and return later for a session devoted exclusively to property taxes.

Leaders tentatively have set the dates for the special session as June 12 to 22.

Crist has a planned week-long trade and goodwill mission to Israel ending June 3. Several legislators will be on the trip.
“Mark your calendars,” Pruitt told the Senate.

John Wayne Smith, a lobbyist for the Florida League of Cities, said legislators made the right call. “It’s the responsible thing to do. It gives everybody the chance to go back to the drawing board and re-think this.”