Police, teachers, government workers to form group to fight tax cut plan
11:56 AM EST, December 13, 2007
Teachers, firefighters and police - the frontline workers who could feel the biggest pinch from a property tax cut plan on the Jan. 29 ballot - planned to join together Thursday to launch a campaign to defeat it.
Organizers said they would file paperwork with the Secretary of State to form a committee called Florida Is Our Home. It would be made up of unions representing tens of thousands of government employees across the state and groups like the Florida PTA and League of Women Voters.
"The list (of members) is growing by the day and it will run the full gamut of people who will be impacted," said Rich Templin of the Florida AFL-CIO, which represents more than 500,000 workers. "The message is not that we don't need property tax reform. The message is that we need to do it right."
The committee, which will be chaired by Karen Woodall, a longtime social services advocate, is expected to launch a media blitz against Amendment 1. Many of the groups have already begun sending mail-outs and making phone calls to their own members.
The property tax amendment is projected to save taxpayers $9.2 billion over the next five years, with $1.2 billion of those savings coming out of tax dollars that run public schools.
City and county governments, which will have to absorb the bulk of the cuts, have already begun warning residents to expect reductions in services. School districts are concerned about meeting the state's strict class size caps, which take full effect in 2010.
If the tax cut plan put forth by state legislators is passed, the average homeowner is expected to realize about a $240 savings each year from the doubling of the homestead exemption to $50,000 for city, county and special tax district bills.
In an effort to partially shield schools from major cutbacks, the Legislature opted to keep the homestead exemption at $25,000 for school taxes. But schools will lose money through the "portability" provision of the plan, which allows longtime homeowners to take up to $500,000 in their tax savings from Save Our Homes to a new house.
"The reality is that Florida teachers, whether they own a home or rent, will lose at least double to quadruple any of the savings offered by this amendment," said John Ristow, a spokesman for the Broward Teachers Union.
Broward schools could lose $100 million if the amendment passes and that's likely to affect teacher salaries, he said.
"When you compare tax savings to career losses, none of our members will gain," Ristow said.
The Florida Education Association, the state teacher union, has already called its 137,000 members and is sending out mailers encouraging them to vote against the amendment. The mailer includes a form to request an absentee ballot.
"In Florida we're already seriously underfinanced in education - if you rank us against other states, we're at the bottom of the list (in public school spending)," said Mark Pudlow, an FEA spokesman. "Our teachers are paid more than $6,000 below the national average."
To become part of the state constitution, the amendment will have to pass with 60 percent of the vote on Jan. 29.