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Amendment 1 beats waiting
By GREG ARMSTRONG
Published January 17, 2008
Many opponents of Amendment 1 say it falls far short of fixing the problem and that voting "no" will force the Legislature back to work to come up with a better answer.
As someone strongly in favor of voting yes on Amendment 1, I will agree that it only scratches the surface, that our tax system and our property tax system are broken and must be fixed. Voting no will force the Legislature back for more answers, but it will also hurt tens of thousands of Florida families, retirees, workers and businesses as well.
By voting "yes" on Amendment 1 there will be at least some immediate relief for taxpayers. That amount is small and would put only a small burden on local governments and leave schools fully funded. Most importantly passing the amendment would provide portability of the Save our Homes exemption. Nearly every day I encounter someone needing or wanting to make a move but unwilling or unable to lose the Save our Homes deduction. Theyare caught in a financial Catch-22:can't afford to stay, can't afford to move.
Save our Homes portability means that whether someone moves across town or across the state, they can take the savings along that the exemption has afforded them. In no segment of our population is this more evident than senior citizens who many times need or want to downsize but find out that doing so will actually raise their tax bill in many cases. Since most elder homeowners are on fixed incomes, this all too often becomes an insurmountable problem. Portability would mean that Floridians would no longer be trapped in their homes by the tax code. They could once again choose a home based on their own needs and desires.
Portability will give an immediate boost to Florida's economy and could easily be the difference between recovery and recession. This will also create tax revenue from sales, from people fixing their homes and people purchasing things for their new homes. Florida's economy is tourism and real estate and a "yes" vote on Amendment 1 will help get both moving in a positive direction.
Waiting several years for a fix also would continue to erode our economy and continue to hurt other tax revenue streams to city, county and state coffers. The bottom line is that the choice is the relief afforded in Amendment 1 or nothing in the near future.
Another provision of the amendment is the doubling of the homestead exemption. This provides relief to almost all homeowners in Florida. This actually spreads the relief out to all. This provision does not increase anyone's exemption for school taxes. Schools will still be funded in the same way they have in the past.
There is also a provision in the amendment to provide a $25,000 exemption in the tangible personal property tax. While this provides relief to many small businesses it would also offer relief to thousands of senior citizens living in mobile homes throughout the Tampa Bay area and across Florida.
The argument that we should wait for a better answer falls woefully short in two areas. One is because a "yes" vote gives us something today and a "no" vote means we will wait at least two years. Unless someone is looking at different economic indicators than I am, we can't afford to wait. The second is that a cut in ad valorem taxes will mean fewer firefighters, fewer police and fewer services. I have too much faith in the leadership we have elected to believe they would cut critical and first response services much if any at all. I know that during most of the last decade the government has seen revenues go up significantly as have businesses. But now things are tough and most are forced to drastically reduce spending to stay in business. Seniors are having to choose between taxes, insurance, food or medicine and most first-time home buyers are just left out all together. Asking our governments to tighten up a little is not asking too much.
This amendment isn't a cure, but it is a start, a step in the economic healing process. A "yes" vote of 60 percent is required on any constitutional amendment because of its seriousness and permanence in nature. All voters have an important decision to make that will affect our own lives and that of our friends, our families and our neighbors. As a voter you must consider what is best for you, your family, your friends, your neighbors and your state. I encourage everyone to get out and vote Jan. 29.
Greg Armstrong is president of the West Pasco Board of Realtors. Guest columnists write their own views on subjects they choose, and do not necessarily represent the opinions of this newspaper.