Bad Florida amendment proposals would boomerang on public

September 30, 2012 

Part four of four editorials on state constitutional amendments on the November ballot.

Bad policy creeps in on several amendments with profound repercussions on county and municipal governments and the public services they provide.

The Great Recession and stubbornly weak state economy have already deeply constrained governments. These two measures promise to weaken public services even further.

Amendment 4

This could be viewed two ways -- as an economic stimulus for developers, homebuilders and the entire real estate industry, or a revenue catastrophe for already cash-poor counties and municipalities that would force further cutbacks in government services.

Under the amendment, first-time homebuyers would only pay property taxes on about 50 percent of the home's taxable value the first year with their liability gradually rising until reaching 100 percent by the sixth year.

Snowbirds and other out-of-state residents who own homes here would be granted the homestead exemption. Commercial properties owners would also benefit.

The annual increase in taxable value on nonhomestead properties would be capped at 5 percent, down from 10 percent today.

The amendment exempts the public school property tax from some breaks, thus preserving the revenue stream that lawmakers rely on for education funding.

The measure serves to clamp down on local government revenue -- with the estimated loss at $1 billion over the first three years, unless those entities raise millage rates to recover the revenue just to maintain public services. Longtime homeowners would then bear the brunt of this amendment's impact.

Tallahassee won't have to deal with the fallout from this measure, only local governments -- yet another state assault on home rule.

With signs aplenty that Florida's housing market is on the mend, the real estate industry does not need to be juiced. Did the housing bust teach us nothing?

The state's existing property tax inequities will only increase under this amendment, further complicating the tax code.

This would also shift the tax burden onto year-round, home-owning residents. It deserves to be rejected.

Amendment 3

Here we have the opportunity to shackle government with a convoluted formula that limits the amount of revenue collected by the state in the form of taxes, fees and fines.

Florida already restricts revenue growth based on personal income, but this measure caps an increase to the previous year's revenue total plus an adjustment based on the inflation rate and population changes.

Colorado voters approved similar tight restrictions to government revenue in 1992, but soon witnessed the devastating impact through deep cuts in public services and higher costs of issuing bonds.

Three years after passage, Coloradans suspended the law. That terrible experience proved valuable only because since then more than 20 state legislatures spurned similar measures.

Florida's version of Colorado's Taxpayers Bill of Rights has an equally appealing but misleading title, State Government Revenue Limitation.

But, as the saying goes, this is a wolf in sheep's clothing. It should be rejected.

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