Editorials

All disabled, older war veterans earned Florida property tax break

In 2006, Floridians voted to honor older military veterans with combat-related disabilities with a property tax discount on their homesteads. The constitutional amendment did not contain language with income or property value limits. Today, should citizens dishonor those disabled war veterans who accept the exemption because of the supposed intent of the amendment?

In a highly charged political landscape infused with class resentment, that appears to be the case. Manatee County Commissioner Larry Bustle, a fighter pilot who was shot down and wounded during the Vietnam War, qualifies for the discount.

Because he lives in a riverfront home in Palmetto valued at some $900,000, several of his fellow commissioners and others are questioning whether Bustle should accept what the law allows.

Bustle is a candidate for re-election this year. One of his critics over the tax break, Commissioner Joe McClash, is also an outspoken political opponent who has frequently clashed with him during commission meetings.

McClash stands to benefit politically should Bustle lose the election, and he published details about the issue on his website earlier this week.

Commissioner Robin DiSabatino also criticized Bustle for claiming a $7,000-plus tax break, both in published and televised reports.

Whether or not an elected official with a good salary and nice home should claim a property tax discount is a reasonable question under most circumstances. These are questionable circumstances.

One of the framers of Amendment 7, state Sen. Mike Fasano of New Port Richey, has stated that the intent of the law is to assist struggling veterans on fixed incomes.

Any restrictions, then, should have been written into the amendment -- as they are in other exemptions.

This law does not discriminate based on property value or income; the amendment applies to all war veterans who qualify under strict requirements.

"I'm doing something perfectly legal," Bustle told Herald reporter Sara Kennedy on Wednesday. "If people don't like the rules, we need to go back to legislators and get them to change them."

Yes indeed. State and federal tax codes are rife with exemptions. Citizens can only follow the law as written, not by trying to divine intent.

Larry Bustle is an honorable citizen who has a good record of public service as both a current county commissioner and former Palmetto mayor. He served his country well during wartime, shot down in 1968 and suffering broken shoulders and knees.

Today, he cannot raise his arms above those shoulders, and his knees have been replaced -- disabilities not readily apparent by others but nonetheless substantial. The Veterans Administration classifies Bustle as 90 percent disabled.

This country and state honors veterans of all stripes, more so in this era than in decades past. Col. Bustle deserves thanks, not criticism -- especially from people trying to assume the moral high ground.

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