State considers tax limitations, but local officials say restrictions would hurt
Local officials claim restrictions would force service cuts
By Anthony Man
Posted February 11 2007
Responding to an angry public, the state may impose sharp restrictions on the authority of counties, cities, towns and villages to raise property taxes, setting up a ferocious battle with the politicians who run local governments.
Broward County and its municipalities have taken in an extra $1.4 billion in property taxes since 2001, causing critics to question whether the governments have spent their money wisely.
Local leaders say they've been good fiscal stewards. And they're gearing up to fend off the proposal many fear more than any other: prohibiting tax increases greater than what's needed to keep up with inflation and population growth.
They claim such a restriction could force cuts in important services such as police and fire protection, an assertion others dismiss as a scare tactic.
Stephanie Osborn doesn't care about the political infighting. Capping local government taxing authority sounds like a good idea to the Davie insurance adjuster, mother of two and wife of a school principal.
"They're already getting a lot of money. I don't understand why they still need to have more, more, more," she said. "I'm not a politician. I'm not a tax person. I don't understand where all the money is going."
Osborn isn't alone. "As far as capping how much they can take in, it's probably the only way you can stop them from increasing the taxes," said Charlotte Greenbarg of Hollywood, president of the Broward Coalition, an organization of more than 100 condominium and homeowner associations.
State Rep. Jack Seiler, D-Wilton Manors, said public concern about property taxes is so great that action by the state Legislature is certain.
Seiler is a former mayor skeptical of caps, but he has been telling local governments to prepare for something they won't like even though the final outcome is months away.
Christine Hansen, president of the Realtor Association of Greater Fort Lauderdale, said her organization supports caps because property taxes "have gone up so significantly over the past several years [and] we're not seeing where the money is going."
High taxes are hurting the real estate market, she said.
That view is getting a sympathetic hearing in the state capital, particularly from Republicans who control the House and Senate.
While avoiding firm commitments before a comprehensive property tax plan is crafted, state Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Indialantic -- Finance and Tax Committee chairman -- and state Rep. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale -- part of the majority leadership team -- said there's merit to the idea.
"The principle we're trying to follow is: Should government revenue grow faster than family revenue?" Haridopolos said. "It's going up twice as fast as family revenue."
Mayors, commissioners and council members counter that they've been responsible. Other counties and municipalities may be extravagant spenders, the Broward leaders said, but the places they represent have been models of frugality.
"Most cities are already pretty lean," said Miramar Mayor Lori Moseley, president of the Broward League of Cities, which represents all 31 municipal governments in the county.
Moseley and County Commissioner Kristin Jacobs said their governments are among those that have cut tax rates in recent years.
"It's very sexy for [state legislators] to sit up high and tell the counties to rein in their spending [and say] they're spending like drunken sailors," Jacobs said. "They've been saying it, but it's not true."
Officials bragging that they're cutting by lowering tax rates are deceitful, said Dominic Calabro, president of Florida TaxWatch, because soaring property values have allowed governments to take in more money despite minor rate reductions.
Local leaders said services would be hurt if governments' ability to tax is curtailed. "It wouldn't make it tight, it would make it devastating," said Mayor Frank Ortis of Pembroke Pines.
Senate Minority Leader Steven Geller, D-Cooper City, said local governments might prevail if they can convince the public and legislators that limitations on tax increases would force reductions in important and popular services such as police, fire-rescue and parks.
Cap proponents contend the specter of cuts in popular services is a political ploy to scare people. "We know how they play that game. We cut the kids. We cut the old people. We cut the police. We cut the fire," Greenbarg said.
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jim Naugle, parting with many of his counterparts, said a change would be healthy.
"The cities don't have the political will to solve the problem. And it's going to take something like this to bring the governments into reality," he said. "The bottom line is it'll help everyone reduce spending."
High property taxes are hurting the real estate market which ultimately affects every part of the local economy.
The tax windfall for the local gov't must be stopped or this state will fall apart. How many people need to lose their houses. How many business' need to fail, lay off employees, or move out of state? The funny thing is, even if nothing is done, the local gov't tax bonanza will end due to a statewide recession/depression.
Let's try and fix the state before it gets to that and provide a better future.
It all goes back to mismanagement of public funds. Cap government spending and allow only what government is supposed to be doing - supply basic services.
Local and state governments claim such a restriction on income could force cuts in important services such as police and fire protection, an assertion I dismiss as a scare tactic and outright untruth.
The bottom line, look around your city or county and see how well the elected officials can waste your money. The local governments must tighten their belt like everyone else has been forced to do. The days of 'spend it or lose it' regarding local and municipal government budgets must stop now!
If the population has to get by with 2 to 4% raises - so should government.