tampabay.com

Property tax anger sparks petition drive

By ALEX LEARY
Published May 24, 2007


TALLAHASSEE - Fed up with inaction on property taxes and the "sausage-making legislative process, " a Miami businessman plans to launch a petition drive to put his own tax cutting plan on the ballot.

"Every day we hear something different, " Bernie Navarro, head of Citizens for Property Tax Reform, said Wednesday. "We said, 'That's it, enough is enough.' "

The plan seeks to carve out huge exemptions for all types of property.

Navarro, a mortgage executive who heads the Latin Builders Association, said he is hopeful something meaningful comes out of the special session of the Legislature that begins next month, but quickly adds that hope is dim.

"This is too critical an issue for us to sit back and watch it get diluted through Tallahassee's sausage-making legislative process, where what comes out is unrecognizable from what went in at the beginning, " he said.

The petition drive is to be announced this morning at the Versailles Restaurant in Miami. Navarro said he would aim to put the question before voters during the Jan. 29 presidential primary.

At the moment, the group consists of three members. In addition to Navarro, Jorge Guerra, a real estate broker, and Jorge Piedra, a lawyer, all of Miami, are involved.

Rep. Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, said citizen drives are to be expected if legislators can't get something done in the special session beginning June 12. But there could be a downside. "If we don't craft a sensible solution that gives people a better deal than they currently have, then (groups) will bring a meat cleaver to the party."

Navarro said he was an original backer of House Speaker Marco Rubio's controversial plan to drop property taxes on primary homes in exchange for a higher sales tax. Navarro even raised $6, 000 for a citizen group, with a similar name to his new one, that staged a rally in Tallahassee featuring Rubio.

But Rubio's tax swap has lost whatever favor it had among state lawmakers and now talks focus on providing large homestead exemptions to homes.

Navarro likes the newer idea but thinks the plans being offered do not go far enough. He is friendly with Rubio but insists he is acting alone. Rubio, however, has said he would back a petition drive if lawmakers produce a "Tallahassee special" that looks better than it really is.

Navarro wants to ask voters to give homeowners a 60 percent exemption on assessed value. Businesses and other nonhomestead property would get a 50 percent exemption.

Navarro said he is talking with constitutional lawyers to draw up language which would be put on the ballot. The group will have to collect more than 600, 000 signatures and get approval from the state Supreme Court for the wording of the ballot proposal.

"We have a long way to go yet, " he said.