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Count the Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission among those who don't think the Legislature got it right on property taxes. Days after lawmakers approved a constitutional amendment for the Jan. 29 ballot that would make the current tax inequities worse, commission members pledged to work toward putting more options on the November 2008 ballot. That's a good thing, because the commission is better positioned to give voters a real opportunity to make the tax system fairer and more reasonable.
The appointed commission meets just once every 20 years, and it has the power to put issues directly on the ballot. It is more insulated from opinion polls and political pressure than state lawmakers, and it offers the best chance to craft a thoughtful approach to taxes. It also has a responsibility to fulfill its constitutional obligation instead of quietly deferring to a Legislature that keeps approving tax proposals many of its own members don't wholeheartedly support.
Even the commission can't ignore some realities. For example, several of the members who would be most inclined to suggest a small personal income tax aren't bringing it up because too many Floridians would reject it without considering its merit. That is a prudent calculation, but virtually everything else should be on the table for discussion.
Among the questions the commissions should debate:
- How could voters be enticed to give up Save Our Homes for a fairer property tax system?
- What is the best way to close sales tax exemptions and tax services to broaden the tax base?
- How could some of that money be used to uniformly reduce property taxes?
- What is the smartest way to provide property tax relief for businesses, owners of investment properties and renters who would get little or no benefit from the amendment approved by lawmakers?
Achieving real change won't be easy. Proposals need support from 17 of the 25 commission members to be placed on the ballot. And after that, amendments must win 60 percent approval to be added to the Florida Constitution. Those are high hurdles, but they aren't impossible to leap.
In some ways, the commission's work would be easier if voters are more thoughtful than the Legislature has been and reject the January amendment. Then the property tax system would not be further compromised by the unnecessary expansion of the homestead exemption or a Save Our Homes tax break that homeowners can take with them if they buy another home. But even if the January amendment is approved, the commission should not shy away from property taxes.
The Taxation and Budget Reform Commission has been quietly going about its business for months, holding public hearings and gathering information. Commission chairman Allan Bense, a thoughtful former House speaker from Panama City, reasonably waited for state lawmakers to take the lead. But now the Legislature has acted and fallen sadly short. Its time for the commission to step up.
[Last modified November 5, 2007, 07:51:45]