House Sends Expanded Homestead Exemption To The Floor

Apr 5, 2017

Credit National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health via wikimedia commons

The Florida House is advancing its plan for cutting taxes.  On top of nearly $300 million in reductions, lawmakers want to increase the homestead exemption by half.

The tax measures lawmakers like to talk about are simple, straightforward: sales tax holidays, fee cuts and rate reductions.  But the hard work often hits a bit closer to home—as in property taxes.  The dollars Floridians pay on their homes play a big role in funding education and local projects.  Whenever lawmakers propose changes, conflict isn’t far behind, but Wednesday Rep. Mike LaRosa (R-St. Cloud) did just that. He wants a constitutional amendment making another $25,000 of a home’s value tax exempt.

“The current exemption applies to the assessed value between $50,000 and $75,000,” LaRosa explains.  “The proposal would increase the exemption to apply to the assessed value between $50,000 and $100,000—only, again, for non-school taxes.  If voters approve the amendment it will effect in 2019.”

The tab for this change to the homestead exemption comes to slightly more than $750 million, and the brunt of the revenue reduction will fall on local governments.

“I do not believe that it is impossible for local government to be able to sharpen their pencil and make the obligations that are required,” he says.  “Yes there will be some tough decisions—I recognize that.”

But opposition from local leaders was swift and unified.

“There aren’t enough pencils in Orange County for us to sharpen to make up this shortfall,” Orange County Commissioner Betsy VanderLey says. 

That’s Orange County Commissioner Betsy VanderLey, and Polk County Commissioner John Hall offers a similar rebuke.

“This is not a tax break—this is a tax shift,” Polk County Commissioner John Hall says.  “We’re going to have to consider increasing taxes, we’re going to have to increase the millage rate.”

“So what have we actually accomplished if we do this?  Nothing.”

But Rep. Dane Eagle (R-Cape Coral) has doubts about the dire financial straits local officials predict—he recalls the push for the Save Our Homes amendment placing limits on property tax assessments.

“I had the opportunity to travel around the state meet with local governments,” he says, “and heard many tales of woe about how the sky was going to fall—how there was no way that they could cut, and that they would have to raise property taxes.”

“In one of those meetings I was given a very nice clock and a pen,” Eagle goes on, “Thanks for being here, with the name of the county on it, and I sent it back and said let’s start here and let’s look for other places to cut.”

Still, the mood on the panel didn’t quite break along party lines.  Rep. Al Jacquet (D-Lantana) offered a last minute amendment tripling the exemption.  Fellow Democrats and LaRosa himself balked at the fiscal impact and the amendment was withdrawn.  Rep. Don Hahnfeldt (R-The Villages) took a swipe at LaRosa’s proposal. 

“This is an idea that is great in intention,” Hahnfeldt says, “but is at best a feel good for legislators and is going to be devastating for our communities.”

The committee approved the provision—its only public hearing before the House floor.  If three fifths of the House and Senate agree on the idea it’s heading for next year’s ballot.  The Senate so far hasn’t shown much interest and has yet to file a similar proposal.