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House revises its tax proposal
But the new plan doesn't remove all the Senate's objections.
By ALEX LEARY, Times Staff Writer
Published October 20, 2007
TALLAHASSEE -- Another day. Another tax cut plan. Still no agreement.
Florida House leaders released a revised property tax cut package Friday, replacing an earlier version termed unacceptable by the Senate leadership. The House plan, the Senate complained, contained provisions outside the framework of a deal worked out by Gov. Charlie Crist and Legislative leaders.
On Friday, the House declared its "refined" plan as fairer than the Senate's, providing larger breaks to newer homeowners while addressing long-standing complaints from businesses and owners of second homes. And the House ditched one provision the Senate didn't like: a sales tax increase to offset the impact of the tax cuts on education.
But it retains another: a 5 percent assessment cap on nonhomestead property. (The House moved away from a 3 percent cap due to its cost.)
Top Senate negotiators weren't around or weren't commenting on the latest House plan, released at 4:30 p.m. Friday and without specific legislation to examine. But other senators had this to say about the new proposal:
"The House failed to live up to their agreement," said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. "If they wanted to change that, it would have been nice if they contacted the president of the Senate and the governor. That comes, sadly, with inexperience."
Sen. Steve Geller, the top Democrat: "Maybe this is better, but the timing of it is impossible."
The Legislature has until the end of the month to meet a deadline for putting a plan on Jan. 29 presidential primary ballots. The House returns Monday, but the Senate will come back no earlier than Tuesday.
It was unclear Friday if the Senate would ultimately stick to its technical objection to the House plan or be willing to consider it on its merits.
"We remain confident and optimistic that both the House and the Senate will see the wisdom of this approach," said Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park.
With its new proposal, the House has forced Gov. Crist, who has aligned himself with the Senate plan, to make a decision: stay put or accept the change, which has initial support of House Democrats and overwhelming support of business interests.
The new House plan is noteworthy in that in reflects an idea offered by the minority Democrats. It would create a minimum homestead exemption based on 40 percent of the median home value in a county. For example, the median value in Pinellas is $174,300, so the exemption would be $69,720.
House members say this is a fairer approach because the breaks are more geared to recent home buyers who bore the brunt of the explosion in assessments during the housing boom.
The so-called Save Our Homes advance would replace the Senate and Crist's plan to double the $25,000 homestead exemption and give first-time home buyers a 25 percent assessment discount.
In part, the Senate's reluctance to consider the House plan is strictly practical. The Senate has polls showing its plan does extremely well with the public, particularly portability and doubling the homestead exemption
And it attributes that popularity to simplicity: It's easy to understand the concept, for instance, of doubling the homestead exemption
"People love this idea. We cannot lose that marquee trademark," Sen. Dan Webster, R-Winter Garden, said on Thursday, when he cast serious doubt on a deal being worked out by the end of the month.
The Senate looks at the House version of the same idea -- the exemption equal to 40 percent of median home values in a county -- and sees a concept much harder to sell.
The now-defunct homestead exemption was polling in the 47 percent range in part because it was so hard to understand. To the Senate, knowing that any plan on the ballot needs to be approved by 60 percent of the voters, simplicity is a paramount virtue.
TAX PLAN COMPARISON The Florida House and Senate now agree that the property tax cut package should offer savings over four years of about $11-billion. But they differ somewhat on how to get there. Here’s a synopsis:
Both chambers agree:
Save Our Homes would be made portable. (Owners can take benefit with them when they buy a new home. People who moved in 2007 could get the benefit retroactively.)
Tax breaks for affordable housing property and working waterfronts.
$25,000 tangible personal property exemption.
Tax break for low-income seniors.
Different approaches to same problem:
Senate would double the $25,000 homestead exemption. And first-time buyers would get an extra exemption equal to 25 percent of value.
House would give an exemption equal to 40 percent of a county’s median home value — about $70,000-$75,000 around Tampa Bay.
House would put 5 percent cap on increases in annual assessments of nonhomestead property. Senate leadership objects because it was not part of the original deal agreed to by Legislative leaders and the governor.Source: Florida House, Florida Senate