Talk of Alternative Plans for Property Tax Relief

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On the eve of the 2007 legislative session, the debate over how to reduce your property taxes is shaping up to be the biggest battle this spring. Democrats remain concerned about a Republican plan to hike state sales taxes in return for lower property taxes.

Lawmakers have just 60 days to figure out how to make property tax relief a reality if they’re going to keep their promises.

A Republican plan that could make Florida’s state sales tax the highest in the country in return for dramatically lower property taxes is already igniting fireworks at the Capitol.

House Democratic Leader Dan Gelber agrees lawmakers have to find a way to rein in skyrocketing property taxes. But he worries the plan being pushed by the GOP would provide the most relief to wealthy homeowners, and do little for working-class Floridians.

“I think every one of the 160 members of this legislature wants to deliver meaningful relief. The trick is going to be coming up with a delivery system that doesn’t simply shift pain and hurt one class to help another.”

Some of the Democrats favor a tiered approach to property tax cuts to spread out the relief, and permanent tax exemptions that could cover some renters too, but there is also fear that local governments might have to cut services citizens depend on, like police and fire.

Charlie Crist won’t say whether he thinks raising the state sales tax in exchange for property tax cuts is a good idea, but he’s determined to see property taxes go down one way or another.

“The most important thing to me is what I’ve consistently said is that we need to lower property taxes and I know the members of the House and Senate feel the same way.”

As always, the devil’s in the details. The hard part will be figuring out in just 60 days which taxes to raise, or which services to cut, to make property taxes affordable again.

Governor Charlie Crist will push for his own property tax relief plan Tuesday when he delivers his first State of the State speech before a joint session of the House and Senate.

The governor will promote a special election this fall to consider a constitutional amendment. Crist’s proposed amendment would double the state’s homestead exemption, make the Save Our Homes tax break portable and extend tax breaks to commercial property.