Lawmakers working on ideas to make property tax system fairer

By: Victoria Langley
By: Victoria Langley

Lawmakers say the American Dream is becoming a nightmare for Floridians who can no longer afford skyrocketing property taxes. House members are meeting in Tallahassee this week to come up with solutions to the tax crisis.

But cities and towns fear those solutions could come at the expense of critical local services.

Florida has a property tax system that even beneficiaries will admit is unfair. Longtime homeowners get a break with the Save Our Homes cap on property taxes. But that leaves businesses, renters and second-homeowners to make up the difference, and skyrocketing property values have hit everyone hard.

State Representative Carlos Lopez-Cantera has attended town meetings across the state where sobbing, shouting small business owners and others say the property tax crisis is making Florida unaffordable. “When your property taxes go up 20, 30, 50, 100 percent from one year to the next, you can’t budget for that.”

House members are meeting this week to come up with tax relief measures. Among the ideas, limit what many say is out-of-control local government spending. But lawmakers are also going to get an earful from local governments. Cities and towns are furious lawmakers are making them out to be the bad guys when they say they’re just trying to cover the cost of expensive government mandates.

Mike Sittig with the Florida League of Cities says local communities have next to no say over the school budgets that eat up nearly half of local budgets, and there are other state mandates tying their hands too. “They mandate minimum salaries for police, they mandate comprehensive planning, they mandate how we treat the water and the sewage, they mandate how we build the roads, they even mandate the accounting systems that we use.”

The property tax battle is likely to be the fiercest of the upcoming legislative session.

House members will meet again tomorrow to consider property tax relief proposals for the legislative session that begins in March. Governor Charlie Crist is pushing for a special election this fall to consider a constitutional amendment for several relief measures.

Crist wants to allow local governments to double the homestead exemption, make the Save Our Homes tax cap portable, and cap property taxes for businesses and renters. The governor’s proposals could cost local governments more than four billion dollars over the next five years.

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