New Tax Measures Will Be on Ballot; Proposed Property Taxes Would Address Environmental Issues

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Byline: STEVE PATTERSON

Property tax measures to help make houses greener and more hurricane resistant, boost conservation and protect working waterfronts will be on Florida ballots next month.

All were introduced by Florida's Taxation and Budget Reform Commission and will appear as three questions, labeled as amendments 3, 4 and 6 to the state constitution. These are the basics of each measure:

ENERGY, HURRICANE BOOSTS

Amendment 3 would permit the Legislature to order tax exemptions when homes are outfitted to use renewable energy sources - solar panels, for example - or "hardened" to stand up better to high winds.

The exemptions would mean the value of those improvements wouldn't be added to a house's tax assessment.

"This is just very smart public policy," said David Hart, vice president of the Florida Home Builders Association. "It encourages homeowners to take steps to add additional hurricane protection to their homes or add energy efficiency to their homes."

Besides benefiting individual owners, the changes would cut public demand for energy and the overall costs of disaster recovery, backers argue.

If the amendment passes, state lawmakers aren't forced to order exemptions, simply given the option. Homeowners using the exemptions would save about $3.4 million in the first year, according to Florida TaxWatch, a watchdog group on state fiscal policy.

TaxWatch endorsed the amendment, as well as amendments 4 and 6.

LAND CONSERVATION

Unlike the last example, Amendment 4 would require the Legislature to create an exemption for owners of undeveloped property that has a permanent conservation easement or permanent protection from development.

Environmental groups have championed this, saying a cash-strapped state government can't afford to actually buy all the land that should be conserved. They argue that taking tax burdens off landowners who accept easements makes conservation more attractive, but leaves land in private hands for hunting and other outdoors uses. …