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Flier overstates school losses
Public schools would not lose $3-billion as an ad claims.
By ALEX LEARY, Times Staff Writer
Published January 14, 2008
TALLAHASSEE - You may have found one in the mail - a colorful flier blasting the property tax cut proposal on the Jan. 29 ballot.
"Vote no on Amendment 1," it pleads. "It's a tax scam our schools can't afford.
"$3 billion stripped out of education budget."
It's a dramatic appeal, but not entirely true. The mailer grossly overstates the projected cuts to schools.
State economists downgraded the impact of Amendment 1 for schools to $1.5-billion last month due to the worsening housing market.
The political ad, mailed to thousands of homes across the state, also omits a key fact: The cuts are over five years. The omission leaves the impression schools would lose the moneyimmediately if the proposed constitutional amendment wins approval at the polls.
Opponents don't apologize.
"I understand trying to hold people accountable to the moving figures," said Karen Woodall, a Tallahassee lobbyist leading the opposition campaign, Florida Is Our Home Inc. "But we've used what they originally stated, understanding and believing that was the worst-case scenario."
Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, had a similar response. "That was the initial finding," he said, insisting that the proposal is "dangerous for schools."
Last week's mailer was distributed weeks after early December, when the revised financial estimate of $1.5-billion was set and widely publicized.
Schools won't be affected at all by the most expensive provision of Amendment 1 - increasing the homestead exemption - because the Legislature exempted schools from that provision.
Yet school districts' revenues will shrink due to other Amendment 1 provisions: a new exemption for business property and a concept known as Save Our Homes portability.
Portabilitywould allow people with Save Our Homes, the 3 percent annual cap on assessments, to transfer accumulated tax savings when they move. It is a popular concept, but not as many people are expected to take advantage of portability as originally thought because of the moribund housing market.
People's homes are diminishing in value, shrinking potential buying power if owners choose to move. Plus the crisis in the mortgage market is making it harder for buyers to get loans.
Another factor is a little-know provision of Save Our Homes that allows for taxes to go up by the same 3 percent even when market values stay flat or decrease. That reduces how much savings a person can carry to a new home.
"In this period of time, people are moving less and they have less to port (transfer)," Amy Baker, the Legislature's chief economist, said in explaining why $3-billion became $1.5-billion.
This is not the first time opponents have shaded the truth. An earlier mailer the teachers' union set to its members omitted the full scope of the proposed cuts for individual homeowners. It noted that the increase in the homestead exemption would save the average person $240 annually, or as the mailer frames it, "$20 a month."
That is accurate, but what is left unsaid is the benefit of portability, which could save some homeowners hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
Despite the misleading ad, opponents have grounds to fret about loss of tax revenue for schools. It was a major point of contention as the Legislature formed the plan in the fall. Republican lawmakers pledged to make up any loss by putting more money in the K-12 budget.
But it was only a promise.
This story, which also appears on tampabay.com, is an expansion of PolitiFact, a project of the St. Petersburg Times and Congressional Quarterly to help determine the truth in politics. For analysis of the presidential campaign, turn to politifact.com.
"$3 billion stripped out of education budget." Florida Is Our Home Inc.
The estimated cost of the property tax proposal on Florida's public schools has shrunk. For full ruling, see 16A.
"$3 billion stripped out of education budget"
- Direct mail piece from Florida Is Our Home Inc., a political group opposed to the property tax cut plan on the Jan. 29 ballot.
Opponents of Amendment 1 distributed fliers that claim the Jan. 29 property tax measure would cost Florida's public schools $3-billion. That is the figure the Legislature released in October as its estimate of what the measure would cost public schools over five years. However, the worsening economy, particularly in the housing sector, caused state economists to set the estimate in December at $1.5-billion over five years. The opponents' flier omits the time frame, giving the impression the fiscal impact would be immediate if voters approve Amendment 1. And it's clear that opponents knew they were using an old, and much larger, estimate of the potential cost to schools. With that in mind, we might be inclined to award this claim a False. But given that the facts at issue are economic forecasts whose accuracy cannot be confirmed, and that the Legislature itself once stood by the number, we're giving a small benefit of doubt and settling on Barely True.