Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Taxes, taxes, taxes

How do voters really feel about the Florida Legislature's "tax reform" measure? We'll find out in a mere 11 weeks on January 29th. In the meantime, there's plenty in the media and the blogosphere to offer us clues:

National Exposure

TIME Magazine - Can Florida's Tax Revolt Stay Alive?

The reformers met stiff resistance from cities and counties that rely on property taxes to keep the lights on — and, in many cases, spent like sailors during the real estate boom and now find their coffers depleted during the current real estate bust. Crist and Tallahassee also failed to convince the public how they'd achieve the cuts without injuring a school system that remains one of the most underfunded in the country. Instead of sweeping changes, the politicians now talk of incremental steps they'll pursue over the next several years to provide tax relief to homeowners, renters, snowbirds and businesses. That may not be fast enough; the state is rapidly losing its allure as a low-cost haven — so much so that a Zogby International poll this year that showed half of South Floridians and 37% of all Floridians are considering leaving the state.

Voters, however, may not wait around for lawmakers to continue tinkering. Frustrated by legislative inaction, grass-roots tax reformers are now considering following California's Proposition 13 example from the 1970s and shooting for citizen-driven initiatives to cap what local governments can spend by tying local budgets to cost-of-living increases and economic growth. "Legislators dropped the ball, absolutely," said Margie Patchett, executive director of Volusia Tax Reform, one of a dozen groups that have formed to change the property tax structure with an eye toward a possible 2010 ballot initiative. "They had a perfect opportunity to do something significant and they lacked the political will and courage to do it."

I added the emphasis on how low funding is for schools in this state. If our leaders in Florida want a stable tax base, one of the things they need to do is attract industries into the state that provide high paying jobs. The best jobs tend to require a well-educated workforce and when such industries look at places to locate their businesses, one of the factors they consider is the availability of a quality education. Higher paying jobs leads to more people who can afford to buy a home, which leads to a more stable tax base. Our educational system and our economic circumstances are connected.

As for people leaving the state, this native Floridian wouldn't necessarily be sad to see them go.

BTW, the Volusia Tax Reform organization cited in the TIME article is not a non-partisan group given how excited they are that Jeb! Bush is wearing one of their stickers or their endorsement by the local Republican Party. Now, there's nothing wrong with being partisan, but I thought readers should know that the group mentioned in the article pushing for reform are doing so from a particular political perspective.

Local Heat

Ocala Star-Banner - Panderers and charades

... Crist and the sheep who call themselves leaders in the Legislature are indeed pandering with what they call tax reform. The recent property tax reform is a charade, nothing more than a shell game that will shift more of the burden of Florida's burgeoning public service demands to cities, counties and school boards, while at the same time idiotically curtailing their ability to raise tax dollars to pay the ever-growing tab.

The hocus-pocus measure passed by the Legislature — with plenty of arm twisting by Crist, so he could disingenuously claim he delivered on a promise to cut property taxes — will presumably "cut" taxes by $12 billion over five years. Analysts say it should mean an average property tax savings of $240.

What those in Tallahassee don't tell us is that the state gave up nothing. What they won't acknowledge is while they have cut the amount cities, counties and school boards can raise to pay for essential services, those bodies will likely have to tax in other ways — through assessments, fees and local sales taxes. And when those new taxes are enacted, you can bet your property tax savings those self-serving cowards in Tallahassee will say, "Well, we tried to cut your taxes."

Lakeland Ledger - What Passes for Florida Tax Reform

This has been all about political bragging rights, not fairness or equity. The end result: A tax proposal that is even less fair, less inequitable, less able to support Florida's fiscal needs and even more difficult to fix in the future.

Polls Indicate

Palm Beach Post Poll - What Floridians think about the property tax amendment (PDF)

Property Tax Plan
53% - Yes
27% - No
20% - Undecided

Property Tax Plan (*after given arguments against)

47% - Yes
36% - No
16% - Undecided

* voters heard the amendment would benefit those who need it least, would not help first-time home buyers, and would cut into education funding.

Miami-Herald - Poll: Voters not sold on property-tax plan

Additional results to the same poll:

A whopping 77 percent said legislators did a fair or poor job on tax relief, "a very scathing indictment of a body that just produced a major tax-reform plan," Eldon said.

And that same number -- 77 percent -- of voters believe the Legislature's efforts in January to reduce property-insurance rates did very little to nothing at all. Only 10 percent said they believe rates will go down.


Only 34 percent of voters believe the state is headed in the right direction, while 44 percent say it's heading down the "wrong track."

While 23 percent of voters surveyed rated property taxes as the worst strain on their household budgets, 25 percent said homeowners insurance was the worst. Those financial woes were followed by gasoline prices, healthcare costs, home energy rates and consumer credit-card debt.

Learn More

TCPalm.com - Tax Reform? - this article offers a little Q&A on how the tax plan would effect residents if inacted.

November 13 - FLORIDA TODAY will host a public forum called "Florida Tax Reform: What It Means To You." The session will be held from 7 to 9 p.m. at the newspaper, one mile north of the Pineda Causeway on U.S. 1 in Melbourne.

November 19 - League of Women Voters in Collier County will hold a public property tax forum at 12:30 p.m. at the Collier Athletic Club, 7th Avenue North in Naples.

November 19 - Property Tax Forum at Florida Gulf Coast University in Lee County, 7 to 9 p.m. at FGCU's student ballroom, 10501 FGCU Blvd. S., in south Lee County off Ben Hill Griffin Parkway between Alico and Corkscrew roads.

Bloggers Weigh In

FCD turns Florida Blue - Property Tax (R)eform

Florida Kossacks - Local Elected Officials - Please Stand Up