After promising cuts, legislators actually hiked property taxes in spring session
By Anthony Man
May 21, 2007
TALLAHASSEE · The Florida Legislature ended its annual session without achieving its No. 1 goal: reducing property taxes. Legislators did, however, vote to increase property taxes by $546 million.
It happened because of the way Florida allocates money for schools. The new state budget, effective in July, increases spending on education and orders local school boards to charge higher property taxes to pay for it.
Unlike other locally elected commissioners and council members who make tax decisions, school board members don't determine how much in property taxes goes to schools. State legislators make that decision by setting the "required local effort," which is the amount of local property taxes school boards must impose.
The required local effort in the new state budget is $9.7 billion, a 7.2 percent increase from the current year's budget. That works out to $546 million in additional property taxes.
An estimated $78 million of that would be paid by Broward County property owners and $36 million by Palm Beach County property owners.
In other words, representatives and senators of both parties voted for higher local property taxes for schools at the same time they were declaring property taxes in Florida have reached crisis levels and must be cut.
In the Capitol, everyone knew what was going on, and many legislators were critical. Senate Minority Leader Steven Geller, D-Cooper City, considered it hypocritical for the Legislature to posture about lower property taxes at the same time it ordered higher property taxes.
State Rep. Kelly Skidmore, D-Boca Raton, termed it "very disingenuous" and state Rep. Jack Seiler, D-Wilton Manors, called it "very inconsistent."
"In a year when we're talking about how we want to reduce the property tax burden on our neighbors and on our constituents and on our communities, Broward's entire growth in education is coming on the backs of property taxpayers," said Seiler, the top Democrat on the House Policy and Budget Council.
State Sen. Alex Villalobos, R-Miami, agreed. "To be up here saying you're for cutting taxes and just raise them locally sends a bad message," he said.
Lawmakers could have reduced property taxes for schools, or held them steady, without cutting money for classrooms by shifting funding priorities in the state budget. But that would force them to make difficult spending choices -- just the way they want municipal and county governments to make tough choices about local spending.
Even critics Geller, Seiler, Skidmore and Villalobos ended up voting for the state budget package that included the tax increase. It passed the Senate 38-0 and the House 115-4.
State Sen. Lisa Carlton, R-Osprey, the chief Senate budget negotiator, and state Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, a member of the House leadership team, said there was nothing inconsistent in the Legislature simultaneously demanding that local governments cut property taxes and ordering increased property taxes for schools.
Bogdanoff said there's a "huge difference." She said the state-ordered increase in school property taxes -- 7.2 percent -- is within people's means. In contrast, local governments have been increasing property taxes faster than people can afford, she said.