A tax cut for real, but then a shaky idea
By HOWARD TROXLER
Published June 17, 2007
Did the Legislature really do much in its special session last week about property taxes in our state?
After years of growth, local governments in Florida will have to cut total tax collections next year. The gear is put into reverse for a year.
And from now on, each county and city will have a cap on tax growth -- taxes can't go up faster than personal income grows in Florida.
This is a major change in the way that the people of Florida are taxed and governed. It affects property owners of every kind.
What it will NOT do is roll back all the tax increases of recent years. This cut is moderate, not deep. The most any local government has to cut its taxes is 9 percent.
According to the Legislature, that's an average savings next year of $174 for owners of a homestead exemption, $199 for other homeowners, and $942 for commercial or industrial property.
But if you are unlucky enough to get another big hike in your property's value, it wipes out part of that tax cut for you. That's one thing critics don't like about this deal.
Another thing: Local commissions and councils can "override" their cap on tax increases. Depending on the amount, that would take a two-thirds vote, a unanimous vote, or even an election. But it's possible. Override fights might become an annual ritual.
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The second half of what the Legislature did last week is more debatable. Now we will vote in January on whether to give Florida homes a second, even bigger tax break.
If the idea passes and becomes part of our Constitution, each homeowner will get the chance to trade his or her existing $25, 000 homestead exemption for a bigger one.
It isn't simple. There is some math and some risk involved in that choice. We'll be hearing a lot about it.
But the big picture here is that the Legislature came up with a bigger break for the Floridians who already have the best tax deal - homeowners protected by the existing Save Our Homes cap.
And yet even this idea wouldn't totally fix the problems of Save Our Homes. First-time home buyers and people buying a different house would still get a whopping new tax appraisal.
What good is a flashy new homestead exemption, if the total value of your house gets jacked up so high that you pay more taxes anyway?
Last, the "moderate" tax break we're getting this fall would be more than doubled over the next five years if voters pass the bigger homestead tax break in January.
Then we'd have bigger tax cuts, even to schools, with homeowners getting all the break and everybody else holding the bag.
We're in for a titanic fight with a lot of players. Schools, teachers, police, firefighters, public employees will warn about such cuts. Homeowners and the home industry might favor it, but other business groups will hate it. So, did the Legislature really do much last week? You bet it did. As to whether it was all good ...
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There's lots of stuff about the session on TroxBlog, along with other opinions, readers' comments and weekly live chats about current events.
Click on the "Blogs" link on www.tampabay.com. You also can type in the address blogs.tampabay.com/troxler.