PROPERTY TAXES; A State Abuzz

Article excerpt

Good riddance to property taxes for people who live in the home they own?

It's on the table. State House members plopped it there last week as part of a high-stakes Florida tax debate that has become a race to the fix-it line.

Gov. Charlie Crist weighed in earlier with his ideas. They feature doubling the $25,000 homestead exemption, making the property tax savings from Save Our Homes transferable to the next home, and capping assessments on nonhomesteaded properties.

Those proposals are about to be joined by another from the state Senate. Its statewide hearings on property tax reform ended last week.

It's no mystery why pressure for change is mounting:

TAX SYSTEM A MESS

Next-door neighbors in similar homes can pay widely differing taxes. People with second homes and rental properties - who have no protections against rising assessments and taxes - are often paying five times or more what they did a few years ago. Many who want to move to another home feel trapped because moving means tax protections disappear.

Skyrocketing property taxes are squeezing businesses to raise prices, cut jobs, scale back expansions or close shop.

Lawmakers and the governor are bent on doing something, and something constructive must be done.

But officials and voters must be careful.

In the balance are personal finances, future business growth, school funding and the ability of local governments to provide services.

For instance, homeowners would love to ditch property taxes.

House officials estimate the savings to the average state homesteaded taxpayer would be $433.

Under other provisions of the House plan, the average second home owner would save $767 and the average business owner would save $3,353.

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

But how would local governments absorb the lost revenue and how would their tax distributions be sorted out?

Would becoming the highest sales-tax state in the nation discourage tourists or drive business to border states or to the Internet?

What about the hit on the poor from a sales tax increase?

Doubling the homestead exemption also sounds appealing to homeowners. But would it force local governments to recoup the lost tax revenue through more fees and other tax increases? …

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