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TALLAHASSEE - A powerful group of business leaders pledged support Wednesday for the super homestead exemption, but told House Speaker Marco Rubio that much more needs to be done to cut property taxes.
The Miami Republican, aware of public confusion and perhaps disappointment over the plan before voters Jan. 29, readily agreed. "Really, what today's about is what we have to do in addition to that amendment, irrespective of that amendment," Rubio told the group.
Still, Rubio wanted to make a show of support for the proposal. "It will help a lot of people save a lot of money," he said, "and it would be a tragic mistake if it were to fail."
Polls show that fewer than 50 percent of potential voters support the proposal - which needs 60 percent to pass - though almost a third of the electorate remains undecided.
The package includes a $25,000 exemption on the tangible tax paid by businesses, but the main thrust is for primary homeowners: a new homestead exemption of up to $195,000 on the value of a $500,000 home.
For that reason, business groups have been slow to embrace the amendment. But they are being encouraged to support it as a way to kick-start the economy.
During an hourlong meeting with Rubio, the groups called for an end to an assessment practice known as "highest and best use," in which a used-car lot can be valued much higher because the land could be used for a high-rise hotel or other purpose.
Keyna Cory, a lobbyist for Associated Industries of Florida, complained about the current boards that hear disputes over property assessments.
"In Miami-Dade County, they've got so many people going to the (boards) that they're given like 60 seconds to present their case, and they could be talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars," Cory said.
Legislation was introduced during the last session to overhaul the assessment boards, but it did not advance.
The Florida Chamber of Commerce pressed for a total cap on local government revenue, not just property taxes. The property tax cap is part of a rollback the Legislature has already imposed.
The rollback has resulted in tax savings, but in many areas, including Tampa Bay, taxpayers have been disappointed by the savings. That could hurt chances for the Jan. 29 amendment.
How much money and effort will be spent to promote the super homestead amendment is unclear. The Realtors, who have much to gain, have pledged $1-million, but other business groups have been coy.
"I'm going to take the Fifth on that," said Mark Wilson, vice president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
Rubio's meeting was originally scheduled for last week. The delay gave Gov. Charlie Crist a chance to jump out front of the issue as he announced a separate coalition Monday that will lobby for passage of the amendment.
Crist showed up unannounced Wednesday, appearing to startle Rubio and fellow Republican leaders in the House. With more than a dozen reporters looking on, Crist warmly praised Rubio for his support. But there seemed to be an unspoken tension among the two top Republicans over who will claim the tax-cutting crown.