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Don’t Restrict Our Ability to Levy Taxes, Wishful Cities Tell Florida Lawmakers

| December 6, 2011

Even Legoland needs its taxes. (Ricky Brigante)

The Florida League of Cities on Monday outlined a list of legislative priorities, urging Senate Community Affairs Committee members to avoid the temptation to restrict the ability of local officials to levy taxes

The cities would also like lawmakers to help deal with costly pension plans that in some cases have become financially unsustainable.

Scott Dudley, director of legislative affairs for the association of 410 cities, walked committee members through the group’s wish list for the upcoming 2012 session, urging lawmakers to give locals as much flexibility as possible in such fiscally constrained times.

“Economic success begins with cities,” Dudley told members. “Cities are the state’s economic engines…. When Florida cities prosper, Florida prospers.”

Over the past several sessions, state lawmakers have targeted a number of issues that affect local governments. This year is no different. One measure (HB 603), sponsored by Rep. Mike Weinstein, R-Jacksonville, would prevent local governments from levying concurrency fees for roads and schools for development permitted before July 1, 2015 and completed before July 1 2016.

Separate bills have also been filed, for example, to do away with local business taxes and make changes or eliminate the communications services tax.

Dudley said cities want the ability to levy the taxes they need to fund growth within their jurisdictions. Local business taxes and communication services taxes are important funding tools and should remain available for use, he said.

“These taxes are two essential sources of revenue for these municipalities,” Dudley said.

Cities are again asking for more flexibility on how they spend insurance premium tax revenue and want to be more free to adjust pension benefits.

Committee chairman Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, said local officials have the ability to set and amend pension policies whenever they renegotiate contracts. Despite that ability, Bennett said some local officials lack the “intestinal fortitude” to reduce benefits or curb costs in law enforcement and other local pensions, which are often politically unpopular.

Water policy is also playing prominently into the league’s 2012 agenda. Cities want the ability to develop their own regulations for the use of reclaimed water while also being allowed to govern the use of fertilizers and other potential pollutants within their boundaries.

Local officials also want the state’s 11 public universities to help offset the infrastructure needs of the communities in which they reside. Budget cuts in recent sessions have reduced the funds available for the public service needs that expanded universities bring. Local governments are increasingly picking up the tab.

Among their perennial issues, the cities want lawmakers to roll back requirements that public notices be posted in local newspapers, saying the outdated requirement costs cities and counties $16 million a year. They say they can just as easily place public notices online.

On the economic development front, local officials say they want to be able to reject permit applications filed after proposed changes to local ordinances and comprehensive plans are made public Dudley said such authority would help “stop the rush to courthouse by developers” who want to beat the deadline.

“Our primary agenda is home rule and no unfunded mandates,” Dudley said.

–Michael Peltier, News Service of Florida

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2 Responses for “Don’t Restrict Our Ability to Levy Taxes, Wishful Cities Tell Florida Lawmakers”

  1. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    while I would agree that many local municipalities and Counties lack the “intestinal fortitude” (as the Senator says) to make the necessary cuts rather than first resorting to tax and fee increases, this is exactly where those decisions should be made, at the local level. The lower the level of Government, the more accountable the elected officials are to the electorate. And frankly if the population of an individual city or county decide they prefer higher taxes over cuts to services, that is their prerogative. Florida is a home rule state, we need to keep it that way instead of trying to increase the power of State Government.

  2. FredMark says:

    One way to make those necessary cuts Johnny Taxpayer refers to is to make the clear choice to cut the publication of legal notices in print. There are many alternatives to the newspapers that charge much less. One piece of advice. Don’t stop with government sponsored notices. Look at the millions in profits the Daily Business Review makes from foreclosures. Some publisher is making a fortune on the backs of people being thrown out of their houses.

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