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No real progress on tax plan
The Senate passes a proposal, but nobody's really happy about it.
By ALEX LEARY, JENNIFER LIBERTO, and STEVE BOUSQUET, Times Staff Writers
Published October 18, 2007
The Florida Senate remained in session debating the tax issue. They will be back in session Thursday afternoon. The Florida House had recessed earlier in the day.
[Scott Keeler | Times]
TALLAHASSEE - The Florida Senate passed a property tax cut package Wednesday that disappointed both Republicans and Democrats and rejected provisions the House wants that greatly expand the savings.
The Senate's action and a suddenly dormant House set up what could be brutal negotiations between the chambers to find common ground or a new plan.
After a day of tense debate, the Senate plan got two more votes than the 24, or three-fifths, it needed to get on a statewide ballot.
"This bill is seriously flawed, it is a bad product, and it is, in my opinion, seriously on life support," said Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami.
Earlier in the day, the Senate debated but overwhelmingly rejected a House plan to cap annual assessments on commercial property and second homes at 3 percent. The Senate did not even take up an equally controversial House measure to increase the statewide sales tax from 6 to 7 percent to cut property taxes for schools in half.
The House, which had raced forward Tuesday with a controversial set of changes to its $14-billion tax relief plan, called a timeout. Work was suspended until at least this morning to study the impact and to give Democrats more say in what will be offered to voters.
The strategy seemed to be an effort in part to gain an upper hand in upcoming negotiations with the Senate by stitching together a tax cut package with bipartisan House support.
A deal on tax relief has proved elusive. It took two sessions to get an agreement in June, only to have it struck down by a judge who found the ballot language misleading and confusing.
The Legislature has until the end of the month to agree on a plan to make the Jan. 29 presidential primary ballot. Whatever is passed needs approval of 60 percent of voters to become law.
Democrats say the effect on schools will have to be limited or eliminated to gain their approval. Their votes are needed to put a plan on the Jan. 29 ballot.
The key elements of the Senate plan include doubling the $25,000 homestead exemption, allowing people to carry their accrued Save Our Homes benefit when they move and giving new home buyers a 25 percent assessment break.
It also includes breaks for businesses and low-income seniors. But what had once been a total property tax exemption for poor seniors was changed Tuesday to cap the benefit at $100,000 of assessed value due to concerns about fraud and the $2-billion impact it would have on school budgets over four years.
The slowdown in the House gave Democrats a glimmer of hope to advance a plan that would provide portability of Save Our Homes but scrap a break for first-time home buyers and doubling the homestead exemption.
The plan, dubbed "Save Our Homes Advance," would give all homesteaders an exemption equal to 40 percent of the median home value in a given county. People whose Save Our Homes benefit is already more generous would keep that benefit.