Friday, November 9, 2007

Legislative Update

Reaction to the legislature's constitutional amendment on property taxes is still reververating across the state:

Back to Court?

Tallahassee Democract - Court challenge looms for tax plan

As Save Our Homes works now, resident homeowners lose built-up tax protections when they move. Homesteaders with hundreds of thousands of dollars in assessed value now safe from taxation start over, with current assessments, with the sale of their home. With portability, homesteaders could take it with them in a move.

That's kept plenty of Floridians from moving. Proponents say making the benefits - up to $500,000 - portability will kick-start the moribund real-estate market. Critics say it will further entrench the inequities inherent in Save Our Homes - the protections are greater the longer a homesteader has been in the same place. Some legal analysts say it's asking for a court challenge.

TBN Weekly - Legislators split on tax bill impact

The latest tax reform package, which must still be approved by voters Jan. 29, would increase the homestead exemption from $25,000 to about $40,000, provides an average tax savings of $240 and adds portability on tax savings from the Save Our Homes cap.

Therein lies the problem, some legal experts say. The fact that portability would give in-state home buyers an advantage over persons relocating from out of state could violate the U.S. Constitution.

Others argue that Save Our Homes shifts more of the tax burden to non-homestead property owners, which they say could be unconstitutional because it prevents business growth and discriminates against interstate commerce.

The Florida Education Association teacher's union and the Florida AFL-CIO have issues with the proposal. From the Florida Times-Union:

The unions' argument: That the tax benefits of the Jan. 29 amendment to property owners would come at too high a cost in local government services.

AFL-CIO spokesman Rich Templin said it's "possible and probable" that the union would launch a coordinated campaign with groups like the teachers union. For now, Templin said the unions' top leaders are still studying the amendment, though he noted there were already plans under way to oppose the previous amendment that was headed to voters before it was scuttled by a judge and ultimately replaced by legislators.

"We would not be starting from zero," Templin said. "We were ready to go with a grass-roots, mainstream plan to defeat the last plan, and we have not stopped. We're confident when the governor is done crisscrossing the state like a cheerleader and people start looking at this, they'll realize it will decimate their schools, parks, senior centers and after-school programs."

Orlando Sentinel - Proposal pits tax relief against cash for schools

"The current proposal does not hold education harmless, and, as promised, the FEA cannot support and will not support the current plan in its current form," [Andy]Ford [president of the Florida Education Association] said.

Tax reform or tax cuts?

Florida TaxWatch is another organization reviewing the proposed amendment:

Florida TaxWatch finds that that the plan really amounts to tax cuts – not true tax reform.

Savings are targeted almost exclusively to homestead property owners, leaving non-homesteaders and businesses with little protection from property taxes that have spiraled out of control.

Another issue is that providing more benefits to homesteaders and attempting to fix problems Save Our Homes created for them makes it much more difficult to create a future constitutional amendment to help non-homestead property that would garner enough voter support to pass. Still another problem is that heaping savings on homesteaders may naturally disincentive them from participating to try to keep local government spending under control. Read more about the Florida TaxWatch analysis here.

Ocala Star-Banner - Payton delivers sharp rebuke to Crist, Legislature on tax cuts

"Shame on you, Governor Crist. Shame on you, members of the Florida Legislature. How can you brag about cutting taxes? Do you really think the people don't understand you are taking food out of the mouth of some poor child and calling it tax reform?"

With ire and passion, Marion County Commissioner Jim Payton on Thursday chastised lawmakers before an audience of about 325 social service providers and children's supporters at the seventh annual Children First breakfast at the Ocala Hilton.

Lawmakers have agreed on a proposal, which must be approved by voters in January, that could cut property taxes by $12 billion over the next five years.

"Will you please tell me who this phantom family is who's going to take care of these little children?" the Republican commissioner continued. "Do you understand, governor and members of the Legislature, that these are children of children? They don't have a family, damn it. What do you not understand? Governor Crist and members of the Florida House and Senate, we are asking you to stop this charade. Stop this cheap political pandering for a few votes that might further some ill-conceived ambition. This morning we are calling you out, governor and members of the Legislature. Will you hear our call?"

Tax cuts

Orlando-Sentinel - Florida House speaker to continue fight for tax cuts

The Speaker plans to raise money from two lobbyist groups, Floridians for Property Tax Reform and his own, to push his tax-cutting agenda. Of the former, reporter Aaron Deslatte uncovers this interesting tidbit:

In the minutes after the tax-cutting session ended Oct. 29, Rubio said he hadn't "given a lot of thought" to his next steps.

But three weeks earlier, on Oct. 8, the speaker had already asked the House's chief lawyer whether he could raise money for the group without violating Florida's fundraising-disclosure law and lobbyist-gift ban, records show.

Because the speaker did not "create, control or maintain" the group, House General Counsel Jeremiah Hawkes wrote, he won't have to adhere to a 2006 law that public officials disclose on a Web site the companies or lobbyists giving them checks.

That means Rubio could potentially raise tens of thousands of dollars from lobbyists whose clients have business before the Legislature -- and never disclose their names.

This from a guy who touts accountability.