Florida Legislature Takes New Look At Property Taxes

Jan 25, 2016

Property taxes for homeowners and businesses could be heading to a ballot near you. The Republican-led legislature is looking to tighten the state’s homestead amendment and extend some tax cuts given to manufacturers.

For Republican Senator Don Gaetz, the issue is simple. If property values go down, property taxes shouldn’t go up. Gaetz’s bill would put an amendment before voters asking them to repeal a piece of Florida’s Homestead Amendment that allows local government’s  “recapture” lost revenues. Republican Ray Rodrigues shares a similar concern:

“I believe in the philosophy that government should not profit from the misery of the taxpayer. If property values are going down, government should not be able to raise your property taxes. That’s what occurred during the great recession," Rodrigues said.

Backers like Sen. Thad Altman says it also gives local officials some cover when property taxes are raised—consumers don’t feel like they’re getting double-charged. But the Florida League of Cities and League of Counties are concerned the measures could cut into the local tax base. Property taxes fund schools and other city and county departments. Florida league of cities lobbyist Amber Hughes says local municipalities will just swap lower taxes in one place for higher ones in others.

"We’re going to disincentivize businesses to expand and buy new properties, we’re going to disincentivize new businesses to come to our beautiful state, and we’re going to disincentivize new homeowners because once again, they’re going to be starting over from the bottom and paying a higher portion of taxes than everyone else in the state.”

But Gaetz doesn’t buy it.

“I find it interesting our local government friends say we’re going to lose businesses because of this, and the Florida Chamber supports the bill," he said.

The Florida Chamber is one of the state’s most powerful industry lobby groups. Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Anitere Flores is looking to clear up how a property tax break works.  Low Income Seniors who lived in their home for 25 years or more with a value of $250,000 or less could see their property taxes eliminated under a 2008 amendment, but Flores believes local governments aren’t applying it properly:

“The intention of the bill, which is what we intended, is that it would be $250,000 at the time of application.” 

And for manufacturers, a permanent end to a tax on equipment.  Governor Rick Scott has pushed for the move, and the Republican majority in the Florida legislature seems willing to go along with it. But Rich Templin, with the Florida AFLCIO, citing an economic impact report, says eliminating the tax could cost about $70 million a year.

“Think about the unmet needs that we have and think about ways we could use this revenue for better purposes, both to provide for the people of this state, and but also to get the most economic development out of it.”

Templin worries all the talk of tax breaks going out could cut into revenues for existing state services like healthcare and education, but the Senate’s Finance and Tax Committee okayed all three tax plans Monday.