Legislators agree on $20-25 billion in property tax cuts, but details still unsettled
By Mark Hollis
May 4, 2007
TALLAHASSEE · Florida legislators won't have to start from scratch when they return to the Capitol in mid-June. They have already set the framework for a deal when they resume the quest for property tax relief.
Gov. Charlie Crist and legislative leaders failed during the regular 60-day session that ends today to deliver the tax-cut plan they had promised voters. But they at least agreed on some goals, and pledged to look again at previously discarded plans, including those touted by South Florida Democrats.
"We need to take a breath, calm down and make sure that we're working hard in a respectful, serious way to get this right," Crist said late Wednesday of how he and lawmakers intend to proceed until the special session on property taxes begins June 12.
Legislative leaders had agreed in recent private discussions to slash between $20 billion to $25 billion in property taxes over the next five years, lawmakers and aides said. That's about twice as much as the Senate originally offered, and half as much as the House had sought.
Other agreements reached between the leaders include giving developers of low-income properties special tax breaks, as well as extra exemptions for seniors and owners of waterfront marinas, the lawmakers and aides said.House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-West Miami, and Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, also shook hands on the idea of giving a tax break to businesses on at least the first $25,000 of equipment purchased, legislators said.
But what gives some Capitol insiders the most optimism that a deal can ultimately be struck is the resurfacing of a plan crafted by rank-and-file lawmakers from both parties.
Before tax talks between the chambers collapsed this week, Reps. David Simmons, R-Maitland, and Rep. Jack Seiler, D-Wilton Manors, had met with key negotiators to push for much larger homestead exemptions than the current $25,000 property tax break on primary residences.
Simmons advocated making 50 percent of a residential or business property's value tax-exempt. Seiler, meanwhile, talked about providing a "super exemption" for people who own homes and businesses worth less than half of the median home value in a given county.
Whether their strategies, or other methods of tax cutting, prevail, Rubio said he and Pruitt have agreed that the tax change they make should include rolling back local government budgets and providing longtime homeowners with the power to take their Save Our Homes tax benefits with them if they move.
The Save Our Homes amendment, which Florida voters added to the state constitution in 1994, holds annual assessment increases on primary homes to no more than 3 percent. The provision has provided huge savings for longtime residents. But it has also trapped some people in their houses and apartments because if they moved, they would be taxed as if they had just come to Florida.