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Confused now? It will get worse
By STEVE BOUSQUET
Published June 16, 2007
A day after state legislators celebrated what they called "the largest tax cut in Florida's history," uncertainty reigned.
Lawmakers may very well have unleashed the most vociferous political fight over taxes this state has ever seen.
In seven months, voters will decide if the Constitution should contain a much larger homestead exemption than the current $25,000.
It would be 75 percent of the first $200,000 of a home's value and 15 percent from $200,000 to $500,000.
The proposal preserves the Save Our Homes tax cap, which limits growth in the assessed value of a home to 3 percent a year until a homeowner makes an "irrevocable election" as the ballot question says for the new homestead exemption.
The choice of one tax break or the other is irrevocable. A wild election campaign, leading up to a Jan. 29 vote, is inevitable.
You like Save Our Homes? Keep it. You favor the bigger homestead exemption? You can have it.
You can switch any time you like but you can only switch once. You can't switch back again.
Not sure which is best? Join the club.
That's the rub.
The proposal treats different homeowners differently. It takes some calculating.
This ballot question defies bumper-sticker answers, but we can be certain both sides will resort to that.
("Biggest tax cut in history" vs. "Destruction of public education.")
Because the election is also the day of a presidential primary, the turnout will include fierce partisans on both sides.
What Republicans call the largest tax cut in Florida history, Democrats call the biggest cut to public schools in Florida history, or $7-billion over four years (a bigger homestead exemption means more money for you but less money for cities, counties and schools.)
Voters, at the Legislature's urging, have decreed that all future amendments must get at least 60 percent to pass. That's not easy.
Supporters can be expected to relentlessly push the tax-cut button and prey on people's tax anxieties. Opponents will seize on support for education, as well as an abiding public distrust of anything politicians say or do on the subject of taxes.
If this truly is the largest tax cut in state history, then why is there such grave doubt, even among its supporters, about whether the public will buy it?
As Sen. Dan Webster says: "Any lengthy constitutional amendment, especially one with a 60 percent vote, is going to be a tough sell."
Any political consultant will tell you that a confused voter is a no vote, and voters are wary of long-winded ballot questions dealing with taxes.
Dave Biddulph of New Smyrna Beach, a leader of the Save Our Homes petition drive, isn't completely happy with what the Legislature did.
He said the proposal should reduce glaring tax inequities between newer and older homeowners, but over time, the higher exemption will be as obsolete as today's $25,000 shelter. He said lawmakers should tie the exemption to home prices.
"We shouldn't put a hard number in the Constitution," Biddulph says.
The tax referendum may need a hefty dose of Gov. Charlie Crist's it's-all-going-to-work-out populism.
But when Crist was asked if he would lead a statewide blitz to pass it, he, too, sounded wary.
"I don't know," Crist said. "I don't know how much we're going to have to take back to them to convince them to cut their own taxes."
For fun, go to www.flsenate.gov and type in "4B" in the bill number box and look for the version labeled SB0004BER.
As the late Rep. Betty Easley of Largo liked to say, "When all else fails, read the bill."