House property-tax plan passes panel
TALLAHASSEE -- The Republican-controlled House Policy and Budget Council voted 19-12 along party lines Friday for a property-tax relief plan that paves the way for a potential $9.2 billion increase in state and local sales taxes that benefits homeowners at the expense of businesses.
In an apparent reversal of the two parties' traditional philosophies, Democrats opposed the bill, saying it raises taxes and hurts businesses.
Only one Republican, Rep. Don Brown of Defuniak Springs, voted with Democrats.
The plan calls for a proposed constitutional amendment that would raise the state sales tax from 6 cents to 7, and gives voters the option of voting for another 1.5-cent-increase in their counties.
Before the vote, several Democrats on the panel argued against the plan to swap property taxes for sales taxes, which will result in a net drop in taxes of at least $6.7 billion and a commensurate cut in county and city budgets.
''I'm not going to vote for a bill that increases the sales tax by $9.2 billion and doesn't give broad-based tax relief,'' said Rep. Ron Saunders, a Key West Democrat.
Rep. Jack Seiler, a Wilton Manors Democrat, complained that the plan gives 1.5 percent of the wealthiest homeowners 13 percent of the relief, while commercial property owners, renters and owners of second homes get squeezed.
Republicans argued that the goal is not to find the fairest plan but one that gives taxpayers immediate relief. They said the plan provides the necessary cuts needed to reinvigorate the economy and give homeowners help.
Rep. Dean Cannon, an Orlando Republican, called the plan the ''biggest tax relief package in the history of our state'' that will result in 15 percent savings to owners of second homes and businesses, while owners of primary homes could see their property taxes eliminated.
Said Rep. Kevin Ambler, a Lutz Republican: ``Right now, this is a work in progress, and what taxpayers want is a decisive action to give them relief now.''
The committee released an estimate of impacts to county and city governments under the new tax plan. The plan would require counties to ask voters to replace homestead property taxes with an increase in the sales tax of up to 1.5 cents, and would roll back county tax levels to the 2003-04 budget year.
The impact to Miami-Dade County: $407 million in tax cuts to homeowners, commercial and nonhomestead property owners, paid for by reducing county budgets. If voters also agree to replace property taxes with a 1.5 cent increase in sales taxes, owners of homesteaded property would see another $230 million in tax cuts, and county budgets would decline that much again.
The impact to Broward: $101 million in tax cuts to homeowners, commercial and nonhomestead property owners paid for by reducing county budgets. If voters agree to replace property taxes with the 1.5 cent tax hike, homestead property owners would see another $379 million tax cut and the county would have to cut its budget by that much more.
The idea has hit a brick wall of opposition in the Senate. House Democrats reminded their colleagues that no one is willing to vote for a tax increase today that may go nowhere. The plan now goes to the floor of the House for a vote by all members.