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Florida Residents to Vote on Whether to Extend Homestead Exemptions

This November voters will have more to decide than just who will be the next President of the United States. They’ll also have to choose whether or not to add up to 11 different amendments to Florida’s Constitution.  And this is what we’re hearing about those amendments so far:

“Amendments are very confusing; you don’t know if you should vote yes or no. You have this part yes, this part no, and if they just made it simple, this is what this means don’t use all these big words, political words, just use layman words just so people can understand what’s going on”, Tallahassee resident, Mary Sargent said.

We will do our very best to help Mary and others get fully prepared for the voting booth with our 2012 amendment series. The proposals cover everything from how education dollars are spent, to who gets additional property tax exemptions. Tonight we will zero in on amendments 2, 9 and 11 that deal with homestead exemptions.

A person’s primary residence is what’s legally considered a homestead property and Florida has a long history of offering property tax breaks to those property owners. This year the Florida legislature is asking voters to choose if they want to extend those breaks to even more homesteads.

These color guards are honoring fallen heroes, those who died in the line of duty. This fallen heroes ceremony was held back in May on the steps of Florida’s Capital. Among those who took the podium to pay their respects was Miami-Dade Police Director James Loftus, who spoke about the concern that he and so many other first responders share.

“So much of our worry is in not knowing what would happen to our families if the worst should happen to us, what would happen to my wife, my kids, what would happen to my mother?”, Loftus said.

Amendment 9 is the Legislature’s answer to those questions.  It would grant a full property tax exemption to the surviving spouses of military veterans who die while on active duty and to surviving spouses of first responders who die in the line of duty.

“I don’t really like to politicize our memorial service or anything that we try to accomplish on behalf of the families but what it means to them is it helps in that uncertain time period that they are facing moving forward with their lives after their sacrifice”, Fraternal Order of Police President James Preston.

Amendment 9 is estimated to cost local governments around $600,000 in the first year.  Amendment 2 deals with veterans who were disabled due to combat injury. Under current law, disabled veterans who were Florida residents at the time they entered the service can be granted property tax relief up to the full value of their home. If voters approve amendment 2, it eliminates the requirement that veterans must have been a Florida resident prior to joining the service. This is expected to cost local governments around $2.4 million  in the next couple of years alone. Amendment 11 is all about seniors.

“I would be in favor of anything that would give assistance to seniors because that is a period in one’s life when he is more vulnerable to whole lot of misfortunes”, Tallahassee resident Henry Steele said.

Steele is a frequent visitor at the Tallahassee Senior Center. He’s in favor of amendment 11 which would allow local governments to grant an additional homestead exemption equal to the assessed value of a homestead property for low income seniors. The value of the home has to be less than $250-thousand and the owner has to have occupied the property for at least 25 years. Kim Corsmeier, who works at the Tallahassee Senior Center as a financial advisor says she sees all sides, and all kinds of people and she’s concerned about the true impact of amendment 11.

“Depending on where the revenue comes from to replace the lost revenue for these additional exemptions, there may be an additional burden placed on these low income people that cannot afford to buy their own homes”, Corsmeier said.  

This tax break is expected to cost local governments around $19-million over the first two years.

There isn’t a lot of opposition to these amendments, and those who stand opposed are mostly concerned about the financial impact to everyone else who will be picking up the tab, to offset these discounts. But there are groups like the League of Women Voters Florida, who oppose all amendments on the ballot. Jessica Lowe Minor is the Leagues’ Executive Director.

“Although many of these are certainly sympathetic circumstances and we love our veterans and we love our seniors, we just don’t believe tax revenue should be specified or limited through the constitution, we just feel that there should be other mechanisms for doing that”, Minor said.

Minor thinks the legislature should tackle these issues itself, by passing statutes instead of asking voters to modify the state constitution.  She also notes it’s much easier for lawmakers to change a statute than it is to convince 60 percent of voters to change the constitution.