Senator Pushing Property Tax Changes

Jan 5, 2016

Doug Will running through a hypothetical roll back rate structure.
Credit Nick Evans

A South Florida lawmaker wants to alter the way property taxes are calculated.  The plan is aimed at making revisions more transparent.

There are two different ways politicians talk about taxes.  The more familiar one is tax rates—what percentage you have to pay by April 15 or what’s tacked onto your grocery bill.  But there’s another view popular among budget hawks, typically on the right side of the political spectrum.  This perspective looks to the ends—how many dollars does the tax bring in.  From this point of view, anything that increases government revenue is a tax increase, and this argument has been particularly effective when it comes to property.

“What happens when your property values go up dramatically is that, quite frankly, local elected officials can say that they’re quote-unquote lowering taxes because they lowered the rate,” Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami) says.

“But the real life effect for people is that it was a lower rate on a higher amount,” she goes on, “which still means that I’m paying more in taxes.”

Flores says an existing mechanism—known as the roll-back rate—needs to be changed to keep that from happening.  Here’s Leon County’s Deputy Property Appraiser Doug Will. 

“Here’s the deal with the roll back,” Leon County Deputy Property Appraiser Doug Will says, scribbling numbers on a white board.  

“They ask one simple question—the amount of money I collected last year—Ok, if I don’t want to collect one more dollar, if I want to collect the same tax dollars I did last year, what would my millage rate be?” he says.

Will explains if property values are increasing, keeping income steady means the millage rate—or percentage of taxes collected—would decline.

“Let’s say last year it was eight and a half mills,” he says, “this year it might be eight point three because I’m pulling it from more value.”

And those changes can actually go up or down depending on what happens with property values.  But Flores says existing law allows taxing authorities to set their roll back rates based on the maximum they can legally charge whether they charge that much or not.  She says pegging the rate to actual tax receipts is more transparent.

“So this is trying to make this very complicated and technical world be just very basic,” Flores says, “which is, if you say you’re going to lower my taxes, lower my taxes.”

With property values continuing to rise as Florida makes its way out of recession, Flores’ bill could be a hot topic when lawmakers get back to work in the Capitol.