Three percentage-based property tax relief proposals in works

Finding a balance of savings and fairness that pleases the House and Senate proves difficult.

Published May 22, 2007

TALLAHASSEE - One method of property tax relief may be "too rich" for counties with low real estate values, another would disproportionately benefit Florida's wealthiest homeowners, and the third could create inequities among taxpayers from one county to another.

Each of the three approaches that Florida lawmakers are considering has advantages over the others, legislative staffers Monday told a select House-Senate committee trying to come up with a plan both chambers can accept at a June 12-22 special session.

Each of the three versions is a percentage-based tax exemption. Lawmakers are in agreement that's the way to go after failing to reach consensus on other proposals during their regular session, which ended May 4. The percentage-based approach emerged as a potential compromise.

The select committee initially is focusing on crafting a percentage-based exemption for homesteads before tackling relief for other real estate including businesses and second homes. It will continue its work June 4.

Lawmakers believe percentage-based exemptions can make taxes fairer and low enough so they won't be an obstacle to moving. Staffers cited various percentages and numbers but said they were only examples, not proposals. Also, lawmakers intend to let homeowners keep Save Our Homes benefits in some form if they are better than the new exemption.

The simplest version would be a flat percentage. For example, 50 percent of a home could be exempt regardless of value. While simple, it also would give the biggest cuts to the most expensive homes and benefit the fewest taxpayers, said House economist Don Langston.

A tiered approach would let more homeowners benefit but an exemption that might be fair in urban counties could cut taxes too much in financially strapped low-value rural counties.

Here's how it could work: The first $25, 000 of a home might be exempt and then 70 percent of the next $175, 000, 40 percent of the next $200, 000 and so on.

The final option is the county-specific approach. It would link a flat or tiered percentage exemption to the local housing market.

It would protect low-value counties from tax cuts so big they would bankrupt local governments. It could, though, cause inequities - a bigger exemption for one homeowner than another just across the county line.