Senators agree on $11 billion in property tax cuts over 5 years
By Mark Hollis
April 13, 2007
TALLAHASSEE -- Republican and Democratic leaders in the state Senate united Thursday behind what could become the core of a deal to reduce Floridians' property taxes, proposing $11 billion in cuts spread over the next five years.
The plan borrows heavily from strategies suggested by South Florida's Senate Democrats, and whittles down the tax burden on homeowners and businesses through a variety of rate cuts and policy changes.
Among its provisions are a rollback of local government spending and a ceiling on future growth of city and county budgets that is pegged to inflation and population.
The plan would allow Florida residents to take their Save Our Homes tax cap benefit with them when they move. It also includes tax breaks for people purchasing their first home.
``This is across the board,'' said Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Melbourne, chairman of the Senate's Finance and Tax Committee. ``First-time homebuyers. Persons trapped in their home. Or an empty nester. That's what we tried to do: Help all Floridians.''
Detailed estimates on how much the various categories of Florida residents would save in taxes were not immediately available. However, the Senate proposal is less immediate and less ambitious than the one advocated by House Republicans.
The House plan would slash the average homeowner's property tax bill by 18 percent. The Senate plan, according to Senate leaders, would ease the tax bite by about 12 percent, and that after a delay of about five years. House leaders estimate their plan would provide more than $25 billion in tax relief over the next five years, more than double the $11 billion calculated by the Senate.
"I want to get tax reform that people can feel," House Speaker Marco Rubio, R-West Miami, said Thursday. "We want people to get a property tax bill that they can afford to pay."
For many reasons, however, the Senate blueprint is widely considered the more likely rough draft for a compromise on property tax reductions that the entire Legislature and Gov. Charlie Crist can approve.
"I'm encouraged by what I've seen so far, and I'm excited about it," Crist said Thursday.
The Senate plan already enjoys bipartisan support and would inflict less financial stress on Florida's cities and counties than the plan drafted by Rubio, making it more palatable to local governments and officials.
The Senate proposal would roll local government budgets back to 2005-06 fiscal year levels, saving Floridians about $1.1 billion in property tax payments in the first year. State Sen. Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, said the rollback and cap on future local spending would "allow governments to have the resources to meet their needs, but not extract more from families than they have."
There is still plenty of political steam, however, behind the House Republicans' program, with its undeniable appeal of greater and faster relief for taxpayers. Senators acknowledged that if their suggestions become law, most homeowners won't see the bulk of the resulting tax relief for several years.
Still, Senate President Ken Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie, said senators took the time to put together a "thoughtful, responsible and bold" proposal that incorporates the many concerns they heard during 14 public hearings held throughout the state.
"We do not have the luxury of a test run," Pruitt said. "Florida is counting on us to do this right, and to get it right the first time."
Lobbyists for local governments weren't raving about the plan, but conceded they liked it better than the House Republican proposal's deeper cuts.
The Florida Association of Counties "remains concerned" that the spending rollbacks mandated by the Senate plan "may still cause significant cuts to local governments and impact services to our citizens," said Susan Latvala, the association's president and a Pinellas County commissioner.