Panel signs off on tax breaks for first responders and seniors

Tampa Senator Jim Norman says if you give your life serving your community or country then your spouse deserves a tax break.  His idea dates to the start of the Iraq war. Then Norman was a member of the Hillsborough County Commission.

Norman: "When the war in Iraq started we as the Hillsborough County Commission adopted two thousand soldiers that served in combat zones. We later adopted the families of surviving spouses, 33 soldiers came back after they were killed in service. What this does is take that wonderful program, it takes it statewide."

Norman proposes a property tax break in a joint resolution would need to be approved by voters. It would allow the Legislature to provide tax relief to surviving spouses of veterans and first responders who died while serving their community either while on active duty as a member of the Armed Forces or as a first responder, a police officer, firefighter or paramedic.  The fiscal impact of the bill is undetermined.

But last year, Florida led the nation in the number of police officers who died while on duty. There were 14. And just this past weekend Clay County Detective David White died in a shootout when police raided a Middleburg meth lab.  White was 35 years old.

Norman: "His wife and his two children are faced with mountains of problems. What I want government to do, I want them to be able to stay in their home. I want our community the state of Florida to stand behind law enforcement spouses. They gave all for our protection, and I want the state of Florida to give them all."

Florida gives a variety of property tax breaks. There is a $25,000 Homestead exemption and an additional exemption for senior citizens. Voters have also placed limits on assessments such as the Save our Homes three percent cap. A home’s assessed value cannot increase by more than 3 percent in a calendar year.

Together all of this may keep a property tax bill affordable but homeowners face what senate staff calls a frustrating paradox, falling real estate markets combined with rising property taxes.  Senators say they want to spare a surviving spouse and the children of a fallen first responder or soldier from such concerns.  Destin Senator Don Gaetz says a tax cut for somebody usually translates into a tax increase for someone else. Gaetz says in these cases he’s willing to pay more in taxes.

 "Yes, I’m willing to increase my taxes, and the taxes of my constituents to help those people because they made a supreme sacrifice.  Yes, the survivors do get the benefit but they also get the lifelong pain of losing, in many cases the breadwinner, a mother, a father, someone who has been the economic underpinning of the family as well as the loss of a human being.  So yeah, for the disabled and for those who give their life for our community, our state and our country, I’m willing to change the tax code and carry an extra burden for them. "

The resolution passed out of the committee on a unanimous vote. It now goes to the budget committee. The House has already passed a similar measure. The amount of the tax break proposed by the joint resolution will be defined by the legislature if voters approve the constitutional amendment in November. The Legislature could exempt a survivor’s entire tax bill.