Cable deregulation bill deserves Crist's support

Published May 17, 2007

TV deregulation fails consumers May 13, editorial 

Contrary to your editorial position, I believe HB 529 is good for Florida consumers and warrants Gov. Crist's signature.

First, the bill would halt the final round of residential local-phone service increases approved by the Public Service Commission, which will otherwise go into effect under state law. This will save residential customers up to $157-million annually.

Second, the bill requires that eligible families automatically be enrolled for Lifeline telephone credits worth at least $162 per family annually; 1-million low-income families could benefit.

Third, the bill enjoys broad support from consumer and business groups, including AARP and the NAACP.

Fourth, basic fairness is at stake. The bill before Gov. Crist levels the entry playing field between cable and phone companies to promote increased competition and to give consumers the associated benefits.

The benefits of cable competition, coupled with $157-million in telephone rate freezes and new hope for Lifeline-eligible families warrants Gov. Crist signing this bill into law.

Mike Twomey, Tallahassee

Tax reform is costly

Forty-seven years ago, I moved to St. Petersburg. Twenty years later, a movement was started to rebuild downtown. It took another 15 years before downtown started to have a healthy business climate and attract above-average taxpayers as new residents. St. Petersburg's political leaders, the business community and residents all contributed to what is the most beautiful and livable waterfront city in America. It has not come cheaply, but it will pay dividends for years to come.

In the early 1980s, we had to scrape together the dollars just to plan for the future. Smart land decisions were made and tax dollars were invested to implement the plan. Quality growth in the core area has spreads in all directions. Our homes are worth more because of our investment in downtown.

The Legislative property tax train is coming and it will have lots of empty boxcars. It is cause for great concern. The loss of revenue to St. Petersburg and all Florida cities will have a grave impact on what is now the backbone of the success we have enjoyed. It is all the things that invite residents and guests downtown, such as museums, festivals and concerts in our magnificent parks. Trees, landscape and new retail stores with sidewalk restaurants are replacing empty storefronts.

All of these programs are possible with city support to keep the parks beautiful, clean and safe. Can we do away with city support if the Legislature cuts property taxes? Absolutely. Will the sparkle of downtown be tarnished? Absolutely. What follows is a slow decline in the city's core followed by a decline in property values and then a decline in tax revenue. We have been there.

Florida and St. Petersburg have come a long way. Our greatest fear should be that ill-conceived property tax reform will take Florida back to the 1960s.

Donald R. Crane Jr., St. Petersburg

A fair, simple tax proposal May 13, commentary by Marco Rubio

Something missing

Did I miss something or did Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio deliberately omit the effect of his proposal legislation on snowbirds?

He listed the specifics of his proposed homestead exemption, i.e., 80 percent of a home's value for $300, 000 or less, 70 percent on the next $700, 000, 30 percent on value over $1-million. He then made the general statement that "non-homestead residential properties ... would also be exempt on a percentage of their just value and would see property tax savings." What percentage?

It doesn't take political courage to discriminate against the snowbirds. They don't vote.

What is his proposal for nonresident homeowners? Since I am a taxpaying snowbird, I would like to know.

Thomas D. Dolan, New Port Richey

Twofold tax problem

People may blame their increased taxes on the housing bubble with its associated increase in property values. And to a great extent, this is true. But the real problems are, one, the system by which property taxes are levied, and two, the inequities in the present system.

I think the worst part of the system is the Save Our Homes cap, which has created a system so unfair that it should be terminated immediately.

The present system is pushing the burden of real estate taxes to new-home builders and first-time buyers who are immediately assessed at today's prices. I am presently included in the Save Our Homes population and am paying taxes on a home assessed at $98, 000 but valued at over $200, 000. Is this fair to my neighbor, who pays twice as much? We should be paying the same taxes based on our property value. It only makes sense.

The homestead exemption is another example of preferential treatment. But as long as we have it, it should be inflation-adjusted.

Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio had it all wrong when he said, "If we arrive at a consensus of how much people need to save on their property taxes, all you have to do is alter the percentages to equal that number." The "number" you have to work with should be determined by the state budget and how much money the state needs to operate.

The most problematic proposal is the massive tax break for people who own high-end homes, coupled with a sales tax increase. Also linked with this issue are county, municipal and school taxes. Local government bodies should not be penalized by the state legislation hindering their ability to collect taxes to provide the local services needed.

When it's all over, the government will need a certain amount of revenue irrespective of the way the taxes are levied. It is disingenuously irresponsible for our state legislators to try to present these current tax proposals as benefiting anyone other than themselves and their special interests.

Robert Montgomery, Port Richey

Solutions become taxing May 14, story

Make it fair

When a consensus of opinion cannot be reached on a range of tax proposals, the most likely reason is that each solution offers unequal advantages to competing interests. The Legislature should scrap the homestead exemption and tax cap and consider a plan that gives all residential property an exemption equal to the statewide median home value.

Properties valued at or below the median value would pay zero real estate tax, while higher-valued properties would receive the same tax relief but continue to pay tax on the value above the median. Everyone gets the same relief, so who could complain?

This would also generate an immediate and significant increase in property values that would be heavily weighted toward homes valued near the median price. Surely, most of the savings would be spent on consumer goods, and the balance invested. Our general economy would grow and revenues from business and sales taxes would increase.

Dick Landry, St. Petersburg

House eases tax-cut logjam May 14, story

Stop spending

Don't let the latest plan by the Legislature to lower property taxes fool you. Property taxes are "ad valorem, " meaning based on value, and are calculated by dividing the budgets for the city, school, county and special districts by the total assessed value of the property base. This is how the millage rate is calculated. Increasing exemptions will not lower taxes. Taxing authorities will simply increase the millage rates to make the numbers work.

The increasing values of our homes is masking the real problem: out-of-control spending by local government. Lowering property taxes involves real cuts in spending by our government.

Robin Sexton, Clearwater

What about your car? May 13, story

A worthy idea

I commend Kevin White's suggestion for trying to keep a drunken driver, who realizes he should not put the keys in the ignition, off of our roads. I am saddened that those opposed to the idea are more concerned with losing money from a "missed tow" than they would be from losing a loved one to a fatal drunken-driving accident.

I realize that there are other issues with abandoned cars, and I offer a suggestion about how to enact a grace period for vehicles abandoned by potential drunken drivers.

Every night, TIA scans each license plate from vehicles in their parking lots. Perhaps a similar system could be set up for bar patrons who decide to stay off the roads. They would be issued a placard from the business. The tow companies could enter that license plate into the system. Let's say that the system allows a driver to "abandon" a car no more than two times a month.

No business likes to lose money. But we all need to act responsibly. If everyone does their part, the life they save may be that of their loved one.

Sharon Jacko, Tampa