To Tax Or Not To Tax? Florida Voters To See Questions On November Ballot

Jun 18, 2018

Recent polling shows there are four constitutional amendments poised for approval on Florida’s November ballot. Three of those deal exclusively with the issue of taxation. But there’s ongoing concern that determining tax policy through constitutional referendum isn’t in the public’s best interest.

Florida voters will likely give themselves an additional property tax break. But the November ballot’s Amendment One comes with a catch:

“There’s only 4.3 million homes that receive a homestead exemption in the state of Florida, but only half of those would qualify for this exemption So only 50 percent of homeowners will benefit," says Florida Association of Counties spokeswoman Craigin Mosteller.

The association opposes the measure because it has the potential to further reduce tax bills to the tune of $645 million according to a legislative analysis. That's $645 million less for local governments to spend on services.

“They’re going to have to consider what they can invest in and continue to improve efficiencies, but at the same time I know if I were voting for this I would want everyone to benefit from this…and that’s not the case with this one," Mosteller says.

The amendment would only go toward people living in their primary residences. School board taxes aren't exempt and "your home has to be worth more than $125,000, because it’s only an exemption for the traunch between $100,000 and $125,000 in value,"  notes Florida Tax Watch's Robert Weissert who calls the measure bad policy-- a continuation of a tax shift that’s led to overtaxing businesses and renters, and under-taxing primary home owners. Weissert argues any benefit the amendment, should it pass would have will likely be negated through other ways.

“The biggest way local governments make it up is by taxing non-homestead properties, raising the general millage rate and putting that burden on businesses. The other way includes user fees: so we see a lot of garbage collection fees, park fees, other direct-user fees and those can go up. There are a number of communities that have considered local option sales taxes.”  

That leads directly to the ballot’s Amendment Two, which Weissert says would cover more people—those who own commercial property, second homes, and a growing segment of Florida’s population: renters. 

“The renters and the businesses are picking up much more of the property tax revenues than are homesteaded properties. Amendment Two helps, not necessarily to offset that balance…but it doesn’t make the imbalance even worse.” 

If approved Amendment Two would continue a 10 percent increase cap for these non-homestead properties. Still, there’s the question of whether these policies and others belong in Florida’s constitution. Both were placed on the ballot by the Florida legislature, and it’s part of a longer-term trend that is concerning to Florida State University Political Scientist Carol Weissert, mother of Robert Weissert.

“The legislature is slowly but surely deleting local government’s ability to raise taxes and to have that end—taxpayers don’t really want to pay more taxes, so I think the fiscal issue is an important one," she says.

And that leads to the third tax-related amendment Florida voters will see come November. Florida lawmakers also want to make it harder for their future selves to raise taxes, requiring a super-majority vote in both chambers to do it.