Budget Battle Sends Homestead Exemption To Ballot

May 1, 2017

Credit DXR via wikimedia commons

The full Florida Senate is preparing to take up a modified version of the House’s tax cut proposal.  But a property tax measure may be more important to House leaders.

House and Senate leaders are racing to lock in last-minute deals ahead of a budget deadline.  The horse-trading touches areas of the budget funding the environment, education and healthcare—just to name a few.  And it shouldn’t come as a surprise in a GOP controlled body one the biggest topics is tax cuts.

“It reduces the state sales tax rate on rental of commercial real estates from 6 percent to 5.8 percent,” Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) says, “which is something that we’ve been working on and hopefully this gets us the start of continuing down that path.”

Stargel is introducing the Senate’s take on a raft of reductions from the House.  But while the measure maintains popular elements, the reduction in commercial lease taxes is a fraction of the one approved in the House.  Sen. Jack Latvala R-Clearwater) explains the overall package is far smaller than the House’s almost $300 million in cuts.

“We had commercial lease.  We had a three day tax holiday.  We had Senator Passidomo’s bill on feminine products.  We had a couple of small ones,” Latvala explains.  “So I think all together that’s about $75-80 million.”

The measure passed its final committee without debate. 

But the tax package is just one element in a much broader series of trade-offs House and Senate leaders are settling behind the scenes.  And in terms of priorities, the House appears far more interested in property taxes.

“Home ownership across our state is getting lower and lower and lower,” Rep. Mike LaRosa argues.

The St. Cloud Republican is backing an additional $25,000 homestead exemption.

“This tax cuts give them an option to make that reality a possibility,” LaRosa says.  “Owning a home is the American dream—it always has been, and I hope it always will be.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has been promising the exemption since before session began, but there’s one very important wrinkle.  The idea has to go to the voters, and it needs the approval of three fifths of the members in each chamber to get there. 

In the Senate that means 24 yeas.  But with one Republican resigning amid controversy and another at home recovering from cancer, Senate President Joe Negron only has 23 GOP members.  With the vote in doubt, the blog Florida Politics reported Corcoran held a gaming compact hostage. 

Monday, Sen. Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) addresses the issue.

“I know there have been some intimations, if you will, that the process wasn’t where it should have been,” Galvano says.  “Or that maybe that this is just a means to an end—part of a bigger picture, part of a necessary step to achieve session goals.”

But he seems to chalk it all up to par for the course.

“No bill in this process exists in isolation—it really doesn’t,” Galvano continues.  “What session have we been through that doesn’t result at the end of the day with a mosaic of intentions that we as the members all stitch together.”

In the end, supporters cobbled together more than enough votes to give the House its win.  Latvala, the Republican budget chief actually voted against the idea, but seven Democrats came across the aisle.