A fair, simple tax proposal

By MARCO RUBIO Special to the Times
Published May 13, 2007

Politics is at its best when the debate is about bold ideas to solve big problems. It is at its worst when it is centered on other issues that too frequently get in the way.

As the speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, I have always said that our state's leaders should be about solving the big problems that our citizens face. That's why, over the last three months, the Florida House has promoted a bold idea on how to confront our state's biggest problem: unaffordable and unfair property taxes.

Our goals were simple: reduce local government taxing and spending, provide significant and immediate relief to taxpayers, and give Floridians statewide the opportunity to vote for meaningful and comprehensive property tax reform.

We were consistent throughout the debate. Whether it was our idea or not, we would support any plan that met those three goals and was more focused on the taxpayer than the tax collector.

During the last few weeks, Rep. David Simmons, a Republican from Maitland, suggested an idea that met the House's policy goals and offered an opportunity for opponents of the House plan (the House voted for a package that could abolish property taxes on homesteads and raise the sales tax up to 2.5 cents) to reconsider their objections. The House is now considering a variation of his idea of dramatically increased homestead exemptions based on a percentage of the value of the home. We think this approach is fair, simple and eliminates many of the inequities that have developed under our current property tax structure.

Here is an example of how this approach might work:

- On the home's first $300, 000 in just value, 80 percent would be exempt from property taxes.

- On the next $700, 000 in just value, 70 percent would be exempt.

- On just value above $1, 000, 000, 30 percent would be exempt.

Under the numbers used in the example above, the new homestead exemption for a $300, 000 home would be $240, 000 instead of the current $25, 000 exemption that every homestead gets now regardless of value. Using the example above, 90 percent of all homestead property owners would benefit more from this proposal than under the current Save Our Homes structure. The average beneficiary of this approach would see their tax bills cut in half.

Nonhomestead property owners would also benefit from this approach. Both nonhomestead residential properties and commercial or industrial properties would also be exempt on a percentage of their just value and would see property tax savings.

This approach works well because it delivers targeted cuts to those who need it most. Floridians who have been hurt the most by outrageous property tax increases would see the greatest relief.

Further, by fixing the size of the homestead exemption to the value of property, we will eliminate the problem of many Floridians who are trapped in their current homes by the threat of skyrocketing tax bills if they move to a new home. This will be a great step for our seniors, growing families and first-time homebuyers.

There are those who believe that taxes should be set by government determining how much government needs and then asking taxpayers figure out how to pay for it. That kind of antiquated thinking is what got us into this crisis.

A new consensus is emerging in this debate. First, let's have taxpayers decide what they can afford to pay in property taxes, and then government must do the best it can with what taxpayers can afford to send them. Family budgets are tight, and government needs to start setting realistic priorities with the money they are given, just like our families do every month.

Heading into a special legislative session in June, our goal today is clearer than ever: the next time taxpayers get a property tax bill, it must be one they can afford to pay. If we can achieve that measure, then I believe Floridians will judge our work a success.

Marco Rubio, R-Miami, is speaker of the Florida House.