Democrats 'less likely' to support retooled property tax cut
Proposal's push falters over details
By Josh Hafenbrack
October 13, 2007
Minutes after yet another special session of Florida's Legislature was gaveled to order Friday to consider a retooled package of property tax cuts, leading Democrats indicated a carefully crafted consensus might be unraveling.
Senate Democrat Leader Steve Geller, of Cooper City, said members of his party were grousing that Republican legislators have been slow to provide details on a property tax-cut package being pushed by Gov. Charlie Crist, and valued at $11 billion over four years.
Republicans, who control both the House and Senate, are planning for a final vote Wednesday or Thursday, but must win over Democrats because a three-fourths majority is needed to place the issue on the Jan. 29 ballot.
Legislators didn't get a draft of the bill until late Friday afternoon, and still don't have a financial analysis on its ramifications.
"I have a bill that is 40 pages long and as I'm starting to wade my way through it, I see it does a lot more than the five or six things we've discussed," Geller said, after taking his complaints to Crist. "Our members are getting less and less likely to support it. [Republicans] are slapping together this bill in a haphazard fashion and will expect us to vote for it on the fly."
One example: the bill would require a city or county commission to unanimously decide to override tax caps, rather than the two-thirds majority in current law, Geller said.
Legislators on Friday put the finishing touches on $1.1 billion in cuts to the annual state budget and immediately began their fourth special session of the year to address the thorny matter of property taxes. Hearings on the issue are scheduled Monday in both the House and Senate.
The package lawmakers are taking up would double the homestead exemption to $50,000, allow homeowners to transfer their Save Our Homes tax savings when they move — a measure known as portability — and provides a 25 percent tax discount for first-time home buyers.
The savings from portability and the first-time home buyer discount would apply to all Florida homesteaders who moved or bought their first home in 2007, according to House and Senate leaders.
As Democrats voiced concerns the bill might be too harmful to local governments, House Speaker Marco Rubio expressed disappointment that the tax savings per year would average just $214.
"If this crisis is a 10, this solution is a 2," Rubio, R-West Miami, told reporters. Yet Rubio said he's going along with the plan because Crist campaigned on portability and doubling the homestead exemption and it's important to deliver on his fellow Republican's promise.
At a Friday afternoon House hearing, South Florida Democrats worried the tax cuts would eat too deeply into local government revenues. Rep. Joe Gibbons, of Hallandale Beach, said he was concerned the double homestead exemption would financially wipe out West Park, a Broward municipality formed in 2005 where property values are low.
Rep. Jim Waldman, a former Coconut Creek mayor, said: "I don't believe it takes into account completely the cost of running government. What about fuel costs, insurance, all the costs a governmental body has?"