Gov. Crist signs historic $15.6 billion property tax-cut legislation
By Linda Kleindienst
Sun-Sentinel.com Tallahassee Bureau Chief
June 21, 2007, 9:25 AM EDT
TALLAHASSEE -- Gov. Charlie Crist early Thursday signed into law an historic $15.6 billion property tax-cut, promising it "will make property taxes drop like a rock."
The measure, passed by the Legislature one week ago, is expected to save the average Florida taxpayer $174 on this fall's tax bill, although that will vary depending on where people live and what their home is worth.
"In signing these laws today, we put people's money back where it belongs – in their wallets and pocketbooks," said Crist, who last fall campaigned on cutting property taxes.
Crist also signed a bill setting up a Jan. 29 special election for voters to decide if they want even deeper cuts through an expanded homestead exemption.
He is traveling to West Palm Beach, Miami and Tampa later in the day for ceremonial bill signings in people's homes.
In West Palm Beach, Crist is scheduled to visit the home of Michael and Jeanette Waddle, who wrote to Crist in April about their high property taxes, which more than doubled from $2,062 to $4,650 since 2005.
The governor's office estimates the Waddles will save $350 with this year's mandated tax cuts.
The new tax-cut law goes much further than Crist had suggested, requiring cities and counties to maintain their tax rates at the 2006 level – and then cut up to another 9 percent, depending on how much they raised taxes over the past five years.
Broward County government is expected to face a 5 percent cut, while Palm Beach County will have a 9 percent reduction.
It is estimated that taxpayers will save $15.6 billion over five years.
State leaders are hoping to ignite the state's sluggish real estate market and kick-start a faltering economy by making it more affordable for Floridians to stay in their homes and encouraging new homebuyers into the market.
Some cities that are in financial distress or have kept their taxing rate below the state average will face no extra cuts. But special taxing districts, like the North Broward Hospital District and the South Florida Water Management District, will have to cut by 3 percent.
In the future, local governments will face an annual tax cap determined by the growth in personal income statewide and the value of new construction. But there are also provisions that enable them to override that cap – and the state's mandated tax rollback – by a supermajority vote.
The tax cut bill was one part of the Legislature's two-pronged attack on rising property taxes, with the second coming in January. If voters approve a change in the state's constitution to increase the homestead exemption, legislative analysts estimate the average Florida homeowner could see a $1,300 drop in annual property taxes by fall of 2008.
"Today I am signing the people's tax cut," Crist said. "And the power to cut taxes even further is now in the hands of the people."