Crist proposes plan that would cut 12% from property tax bills in first year
By Mark Hollis
April 26, 2007
TALLAHASSEE -- After hearing from Florida homeowners furious over taxes, Gov. Charlie Crist on Wednesday unveiled his own property tax-cut plan that aides said would lop 12 percent off average homeowners' bills in its first year and reduce their taxes by a total of more than $2,900 within five years.
With House-Senate negotiations apparently going nowhere, Crist jumped in to try to break the deadlock. On Tuesday, hundreds of South Florida residents had told the governor at a town hall meeting that they needed tax relief right away.
"It's important that we continue to let the Legislature do its job," Crist said Wednesday. But he said legislators, who have been unable to agree over the past eight weeks, had come to him privately to say, "We think you can help us along a little bit."
The plan presented by Crist to House and Senate conferees did not include the crux of the plan pushed by his fellow Republicans in the House: the abolition of property taxes on Floridians' year-round residences and an increase in the state sales tax.
"One of the messages I got [at Tuesday's town meeting in Palm Beach Gardens] is that there clearly is a desire to reduce property taxes as much as possible, but I don't know how much appetite there is to raise the sales tax," Crist said.
Immediate reaction from legislators was mixed, with several negotiators praising the governor for intervening.
Sen. Steve Geller, D-Cooper City, said the plan lacked details.
According to Crist's staff, his proposals would slash $33.5 billion from the state's tax rolls over five years. That would mean an estimated reduction of $340, or upwards of 12 percent, on an average homeowner's property tax bill in the first year, according to briefing papers made available by the governor's office.
In the second year, the drop would grow to 21.5 percent. In the fifth year, the tax rate reduction would be 25 percent, meaning cumulative savings for the average homeowner would be about $2,930 over five years, according to the briefing papers.
Those estimated savings are based on a home valued at $290,000 and assessed for taxation purposes at $140,000.
First-time Florida homebuyers would supposedly receive an average of $3,636 in tax reductions, but how that would work wasn't described.
Crist acted as House-Senate negotiators seemed to be drifting farther apart. After Tuesday's rancorous disagreements, the House resumed talks Wednesday by offering a new plan that would reduce property taxes by $44 billion statewide over five years, compared with a Senate plan of about $15 billion in tax-trimming over the same period.
A boost in the sales tax rate to pay for deep reductions in levies on real estate is the keystone of the plan advanced by House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-West Miami. The proposal has been opposed by Republican and Democratic senators alike.
Although he expressed skepticism that Rubio's plan had a chance, Crist said he is on the same page as House Republicans when it comes to forcing local governments to scale back their tax bases. He wants cities and counties to roll their tax rates back to what they were in 2003, before a real estate boom caused property values around the state to skyrocket.
Crist's plan calls for a doubling of the state's homestead exemption, meaning that year-round Floridians would not pay property taxes on the first $50,000 of their home's assessed value.
Crist supports allowing residents the option of taking savings from the Save Our Homes' property tax cap with them when they move. That cap limits growth in taxes on homesteaded, or primary, residences to 3 percent a year.
On Wednesday, he came out in favor of a 25-percent property tax break for first-time homebuyers, although neither he nor his aides gave details about how that would work.