Vol 8 No. 18 - January 23, 2008

Tax reform amendment a baby step

By Louise Bolger
sun staff writer

We may live in a free country, but not every aspect of living in the United States is free. Everyone contributes to funding the coffers of local, state and federal governments, and it’s not very often that we have a say in where that funding comes from and how it’s collected. Next week, Florida voters will have a say in that process, at least as it relates to property tax.

The constitutional amendment regarding property tax exemptions and assessments, which was drafted at the end of October by both the Florida House and Senate, will be on the ballot on Tuesday, Jan. 29. The proposed changes involve the following: Doubling the $25,000 homestead exemption to $50,000, resulting in approximately a $240 annual savings for homesteaded homeowners; adoption of a portability allowance for homesteaded property owners who want to move and retain their current homestead exemption; and capping non-homesteaded property at a 10 percent assessment rate.

Since this amendment was proposed, there has been a lot of discussion regarding what’s wrong with the amendment. It gives more to homesteaded residents and leaves out non-homesteaded and commercial property owners, it lacks creativity and guts in dealing with Florida’s property tax problems and basically it doesn’t go far enough in providing property tax relief. All of this is true, however, what’s right with the amendment is that if it passes it will provide an important first baby step in overhauling and acknowledging an inequitable system.

The portability provision gives real relief to homeowners, especially the elderly,   who have become virtual prisoners in their homes. Based on the current tax system, selling and moving on will reset their property taxes to an unaffordable rate for many on a fixed income. This will also have a positive influence on the current real estate market by adding qualified buyers to the marketplace.

Doubling the $25,000 homestead exemption is aimed at homesteaded homeowners as insurance to help get the amendment to pass, but doesn’t help solve the overall problem.  However, capping non-homesteaded properties does have some teeth. Buyers are starting to trickle in and takie advantage of the lowest prices in years. If Florida adopts a cap on taxes for second home and investment buyers, this could have real value down the road when we’re back to double digit annual appreciation. In addition, it will send a message to those considering investing or relocating to Florida that change is possible and more change is probable. If this doesn’t happen, it could be years before Florida residents see any property tax relief. Think a bird in the hand. 

In a perfect world our government legislatures would all agree and would all know what is exactly right and fair for all residents. Since perfection is seldom seen in sweeping government regulations, we are left to work with what we’re given. And what we’ve been given at least acknowledges the problem and makes an attempt to correct it.

The residents of Florida should vote to adopt the property tax constitutional amendment, but they should not allow the legislators to forget that their job isn’t over and further tax relief is necessary.

The right to cast a ballot and have our voices heard is clearly our most precious gift as a people. Wars have been fought and movements organized to gain and protect this privilege. Exercise your most valuable right as a citizen and vote on Tuesday, Jan. 29.


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