In Education, Lawmakers Pitch Lower Property Taxes Over Greater Tax Cuts

Jan 29, 2016

Credit David Sawyer via Flickr

Education is set for a funding boost as the legislature rolls ahead with its budget planning. But as the process moves along, some Republicans are expressing concerns about where the increase will come from.

Florida funds its schools in two main ways. Money from the state, and local dollars generated by property taxes. But in recent years, the local portion of education funding has started to outpace the state’s contributions. And as property values go up—so do taxes, fueling the surge in what’s called the Required Local Effort. But some lawmakers are starting to worry the  effort is too much.

“We, the state, tell the locals that when they keep the same millage rate and the values go up, they have to call it a tax increase," said like Republican Rep. Keith Perry. "But we, the state, seem to have the attitude that if we keep the same millage rate and the values go up…we don’t call it a tax increase. So what I prefer to do is not raise the local property taxes and would prefer not to make some of the cuts we’re making here at the state to offset not raising the local property tax.” 

The legislature includes an optional figure for local districts to use, called discretionary. But all the districts use that money in their budgets, and Perry’s argument is that it’s not really an “option”. House Education budget chairman Eric Fresen says the figure is a reflection of the economy. Not an actual tax increase.  

“During the decline of the declining tax rolls, as we’ve mentioned before, it was a tax cut if you have that mentality. Now it’s just an adjustment with no actual increase in the milege," he said.

The debate rising in the Senate.

“Eighty-eight percent of the proposed increase would be funded by an increase in property taxes," said Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. The legislature is still counting the optional or discretionary figure in its proposed budget.

Shortly before the House rolled out its $21.4 billion K-12 education plan for the upcoming fiscal year, Republican Senator Don Gaetz expressed a similar concern to his colleagues. Gaetz says it’s time for lawmakers to consider putting forward more money in the state’s share, to shrink the local cost.

“If we can reduce what otherwise would be a significant increase in local property taxes that needs to be, in my view, part of the framework of discussion about holding tax increases down, not doing tax increases, and doing tax cuts.”

Gaetz argues that money could be better spent, and have a more widespread impact, if it helped bring down costs for homeowners and steered into schools, and Senate President Andy Gardiner seems inclined to agree.

“That, in my mind, would be a tax cut. And I think that’s some of the argument and discussion President Gaetz has been bringing forward," Gardiner told reporters.

That idea could run up against the competing interest of Governor Rick Scott, who has pushed for $1 billionin tax cuts, mostly for businesses. Both the House and Senate have rolled out their complete budget plans. During the next few weeks both chambers will have to approve their respecting proposals, and then work to reconcile them into a single document.