Speaker: Florida House Set to Deliver Property-Owner Protection
Orlando Sentinel May 11, 2007Marco Rubio Special to the Sentinel
When Tallahassee turned its attention to property taxes earlier this year, the focus of the debate for many participants was centered on how much revenue government could afford to lose. Today, as we head toward a special session that promises to deliver historic tax relief, the debate is solely focused on how much taxpayers can afford to pay.
As House Republicans, we consider that newfound taxpayer focus a significant accomplishment. Over the past three months, the Florida House of Representatives has promoted a bold idea on how to confront our state’s biggest problem: unaffordable and unfair property taxes.
Our goals were simple: reduce local government taxing and spending, provide significant and immediate relief to taxpayers, and give Floridians statewide the opportunity to vote for meaningful and comprehensive property-tax reform. We were consistent throughout the debate. Whether our idea or not, we would support any plan that met those three goals and was more focused on the taxpayer than the tax collector.
During the past few weeks, Rep. David Simmons, a Republican from Maitland, suggested an idea that met the House’s policy goals, and offered an opportunity for opponents of the House plan to reconsider their objections. The House is now considering a variation of his idea of dramatically increased homestead exemptions based on a percentage of the value of the home. We think this approach is fair and simple, and eliminates many of the inequities that have developed under our current property-tax structure.
Here is an example of how this approach might work: On the home’s first $300,000 in just value, 80 percent would be exempt from property taxes. On the next $700,000 in just value, 70 percent would be exempt. On just value above $1,000,000, 30 percent would be exempt. Under the numbers used in the example above, the new homestead exemption for a $300,000 home would be $240,000. Using the example above, 90 percent of all homestead property owners would benefit more from this proposal than under the current Save Our Homes structure. The average beneficiary of this approach would see his or her tax bill cut in half. Non-homestead-property owners would also benefit from this approach. Both non-homestead residential properties and commercial/industrial properties would also be exempt on a percentage of their just value and would see property-tax savings.
This approach works well because it delivers targeted cuts to those who need it most. Floridians who have been hurt the most by outrageous property-tax increases will see the greatest relief. Further, by fixing the size of the homestead exemption to the value of property, we will eliminate the problem of many Floridians who are trapped in their current homes by the threat of skyrocketing tax bills if they move to a new home. This would be a great step for our seniors, growing families and first-time home buyers.
There are those who believe that taxes should be set by government determining how much government needs and then asking taxpayers to figure out how to pay for it. That kind of antiquated thinking is what got us into this crisis to begin with. A new consensus is emerging in this debate: First, let’s have taxpayers decide what they can afford to pay in property taxes, and then government must do the best it can with what taxpayers can afford to send them. Family budgets are tight, and government needs to start setting realistic priorities with the money it is given, just like our families do every month.
Heading into a special legislative session in June, our goal today is clearer than ever: The next time taxpayers get a property-tax bill, it must be one they can afford to pay. If we can achieve that measure, then I believe Floridians will judge our work a success.
Marco Rubio, a Republican from West Miami, is the speaker of the Florida House of Representatives. He wrote this commentary for the Orlando Sentinel.
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