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House united in passing tax proposal
It clears by a 108-2 vote. Now it's on to the Senate, where the plan is likely to be tested.
By ALEX LEARY, Times Staff Writer
Published October 23, 2007
[Willie J. Allen, Jr. | Times]
Rep. Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, left, and House Minority Leader Dan Gelber, D-Miami Beach, discuss property tax relief amendments on the floor of the House on Monday.
TALLAHASSEE - A week after crashing property tax talks with drastic changes to a pre-arranged deal, the Florida House passed a new plan Monday night that many argue is a fairer approach to tax relief.
But the bipartisan and nearly unanimous showing will be tested as the proposal heads to the Senate, which approved a different proposal last week and is agitated by the House's late adjustments. House members said the 108-2 vote - achieved after Republicans embraced Democratic ideas and scaled back cuts to schools - will be hard to resist.
"It's so much better than what the Senate put together," said Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando. "Let's really work to make sure this bill is the final deal."
At $11-billion over four years, the House plan saves roughly the same amount as the Senate's. But it takes a different approach in two main areas: It includes a homestead exemption worth 40 percent of the median home values in a county, and a 5 percent cap on annual assessments for businesses and second homes.
House members say the median approach better targets relief to newer homeowners and the cap gives a large segment of property owners overdue protection.
The Senate's plan would double the $25,000 homestead exemption and provide a break for first-time home buyers. It does not include an assessment cap for nonhomestead property owners.
Now the sides must agree by the end of the month, the deadline for putting it on the Jan. 29 presidential primary ballot.
House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-Miami, played down differences with the Senate but underscored the value of Monday's vote.
"We put it through a pretty rigorous test here in the House ... a chamber where every imaginable constituency in Florida is represented and it passed. It passed overwhelmingly," he said.
Two Democrats from Tallahassee, Loranne Ausley and Curtis Richardson, cast dissenting votes, worried about the legislation's impact on small counties and schools.
Gov. Charlie Crist sounded upbeat about a deal being reached, yet refused to say whether he supports a 5 percent assessment cap. He told reporters he still supported the Senate plan but was open to "modifications."
Senate leaders have the next two days to consider differences, with the chamber expected to return Thursday at the earliest.
"We'll just have to wait and see what happens," said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. "But I'm very confident we can have resolution."
Sen. Steve Geller, D-Cooper City, said there are too many unknowns about the House plan, especially the 5 percent cap, and not enough time to consider them.
"There are no mulligans, no do-overs," he said. "And right now, I don't think we have it right."
Debate waged for hours Monday so lawmakers could consider scores of amendments. Democrats failed to exclude school taxes from the 5 percent assessment cap for nonhomestead property. They said it made sense from a policy standpoint and also to remove a potential problem with voters concerned with the quality of schools.
But Republicans said businesses and second-home owners have been ignored by past tax cutting measures.
"When is a cap not a cap? When it's half a cap," said Rep. Kevin Amber, R-Lutz.
Republicans did drop a provision that made it more difficult for local government control to exceed tax revenue caps.
Staff writer Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.
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:
1. Save Our Homes would be made portable. (Owners can take the benefit with them when they buy a new home. People who moved in 2007 could get the benefit retroactively.)
2. Tax breaks for affordable housing property and working waterfronts.
3. $25,000 tangible personal property exemption.
4. Tax break for low-income seniors.e_SClBDifferent approaches to same problem:
1. Senate would double the $25,000 homestead exemption. And first-time buyers would get an extra exemption equal to 25 percent of value.
2. House would give an exemption equal to 40 percent of a county's median home value -- about $70,000-$75,000 around Tampa Bay. Anyone with a better break under Save Our Homes would keep that.
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.