State Politics

Property tax relief bills zip through committee

Four different measures that would provide various forms of property tax relief zipped through a Florida House committee Wednesday.

Among the provisions: One would cap all property taxes at 1.35 percent of total assessed value, while another would allow additional homestead exemptions for first-time property owners.

A third called for limiting assessment increases on non-homesteaded property to 5 percent, and yet another would make it easier for property owners to challenge their assessments, officials said.

The four proposals won approval from the House Military & Local Affairs Policy Committee, officials said.

The day’s action in the House drew favorable comments from Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, who has filed a companion bill in the Senate addressing property tax relief.

“I was very pleased to see it come out of there,” he said Wednesday of the House version. “We have had positive response from practically every single person who has contacted us, except for those associated with local government.”

“On every one of those tax bills, we’re getting e-mail and phone calls — they all like it,” he added.

It will be another two or three weeks before he might venture a prediction about their chances of passage, as the measures still are making their way through committees, he said.

One of them, House Joint Resolution 385, sponsored by Rep. David Rivera, R-Miami, is a companion to Bennett’s Senate Bill 738. It would amend Florida’s Constitution to limit the combined amount of property taxes collected by counties, school districts, municipalities and special districts on any parcel of real property.

If the measure wins approval from voters in 2010, no taxing authority would be able to levy tax more than 1.35 percent of the property’s highest taxable value, officials said.

“These measures will make Florida more affordable and help stimulate economic activity in Florida’s real estate market,” said Adam Hasner, House majority leader.

Property taxes of some Manatee County cities work out to 2 percent of taxable value, while the rates of many unincorporated areas are below 1.6 percent of taxable value, Jim Seuffert, Manatee County’s director of finance, told the Herald this week.

He thought the rush to pass the measures amounted to political posturing, and might prove to be financially unwise over time.

“They really should be waiting until next year because they should see what is happening to local governments as property values drop this year and next year,” Seuffert said Wednesday. “Because they could end up in the awkward position — if they pass it this year, of rescinding it next year, depending how financially threatened local governments become.”

“I know in the (state) Senate, concern has already been expressed that counties and cities are on shaky ground, and to place arbitrary limits on their future financial caps could be counterproductive in the long run,” he said.

“And like I said, by the time we get to this time next year, if counties and cities are making big cuts in public safety expenditures, there may be some hesitation to force them to make even greater cuts because of some sort of constitutional amendment limiting property tax.”

At one point, the idea to amend Florida’s Constitution had prompted a petition drive to put the cap on the general election ballot. However, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that its language was not clear enough to meet requirements for a ballot question.

House Joint Resolution 97 proposes amending the Florida Constitution to allow a new, additional homestead exemption to first-time home buyers in an amount equal to 50 percent of the homesteaded property’s just value on Jan. 1 of the year the owner establishes residency.

The exemption would not exceed $250,000 and would be reduced each year by 20 percent of the initial, additional exemption or by the amount the homestead’s assessed value is lower than just value because of the Save Our Homes benefit, officials said.

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 708-7908.