Amendment Four Debate Pits Realtors Against Local Government

Sep 27, 2012

A property tax amendment on the upcoming Florida ballot is drawing opposition from local government leaders in Leon County. But the Florida Realtors Association and others are touting the measure, Amendment Four, as an economy booster.

If passed, Amendment Four would change the way local governments are allowed to assess property-taxes, in several ways. And those complex changes have Tallahassee Mayor John Marks worried.

“The explanation is 17 pages long. That, in and of itself, should send a signal," he said on Thursday.

The short version is this:

  • First, people buying a home for the first time would get a property tax exemption worth half of the house’s value. That would gradually phase out over five years.
  • Second: for people who own commercial properties, rentals or second homes, there’d be a stricter limit on how much their assessed values could increase, from year to year.
  • And, third: lawmakers would be allowed to get rid of something called “recapture,” which lets taxable home values rise even while market values fall.

All of these changes are essentially tax breaks. But Mayor Marks says, Amendment Four would cut off revenue for counties and cities that are already having trouble maintaining service levels.

"I don’t think we would have a choice at the local level but to seek other sources of revenue, which would include, of course, raising taxes. And I know that our citizens are not in favor of that," he said.

An analysis by the Florida Association of Counties shows, Leon County taxing districts would lose about $18 million in revenue over the next four years. And that’s after falling property values have already led to the County Commission raise its property tax rate this year.

But Stephen Lockheim, Executive Director of the Tallahassee Board of Realtors, says Amendment Four would boost the economy. He says, the 1,100 Realtors he represents, and Realtors all over the state, support the amendment because a tax exemption for first-time buyers should encourage more people to buy homes.

“There’s a lot of economic activity from that, including people buying new window dressing and, a lot of times, new furniture. And, the exponential increase in economic activity from a house sale is pretty large," he said. 

Lockheim points to an analysis by the nonpartisan research group Florida TaxWatch. It projects about 320,000 more homes bought over 10 years, and an accompanying 19,000 jobs created in construction and related industries.

But another research group, the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, says the Florida TaxWatch analysis fails to take into account the amount that local governments might raise taxes in response to the lost revenue.