First-time home buyers, business owners and snowbirds will get new property tax breaks under a proposed constitutional amendment passed in the House on Monday.
The measure (HJR 381), if also approved by the Senate, would allow voters to decide whether to put a 5 percent cap on property tax assessment increases for business owners, investors and landlords that own “non-homestead” property.
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Voters would also decide whether to give first-time home buyers a tax break of 50 percent of the assessed value of their home, capped at 50 percent of the median home value in their county.
Current law puts a cap of 10 percent on assessment increases for non-homestead properties.
“If this House is truly about stimulating jobs, this is a bill that tells the business community ‘We are not going to penalize you anymore,’ ” said Rep. Fred Costello, R-Ormond Beach. The measure passed on a 105-11 vote.
This bill is a big priority for Florida Realtors, who got a similar measure passed in 2009, but saw it struck down by the courts for confusing ballot language. Realtors said this year’s effort should better survive a court challenge.
Supporters of the proposal say it helps correct inequity in the property tax system. Under the “Save Our Homes” law, owner-occupied homes – those with a homestead exemption – have their tax assessment increases capped at 3 percent.
This has caused many counties to rely more heavily on the non-homestead properties, such as businesses, apartments and investment properties for tax revenue, backers say. But the bill is opposed by cities and counties, whose officials say they stand to lose hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.
Opponents say it will cause cities and counties to look at new sources of revenue, yielding tax increases to all property owners.
House Minority Leader Ron Saunders, R-Key West, broke ranks with many Democrats to support the bill.
“This amendment is for tax fairness,” said Saunders, whose district is home to many snowbirds and vacation home owners who are subjected to the current 10 percent assessment cap and face higher tax bills than those in owner-occupied homes.
The Senate has yet to take up the companion measure or withdraw it from its last committee stop. Realtor lobbyist John Sebree said they are “obviously working hard for that.”
Another bill (HB 1053) would put the proposed amendment on the presidential primary ballot in early 2012. House Democrats voted Monday to not stray from an earlier position to oppose putting any constitutional amendments on the presidential primary ballot. Republicans need Democratic votes to pass HB 1053, because 90 votes are needed to put the measure on the January ballot.
Lawmakers are also examining other property tax cuts. The Senate passed an expansion of an existing property tax break for disabled military veterans on Monday. The measure (SJR 592) was passed unanimously.
Also part of the budget talks is a proposal to require Florida’s water management districts to reduce their tax rates later this year and require more legislative involvement in district budgets.
–Lilly Rockwell, News Service of Florida