Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

State Wary of Property Tax Lawsuit; the Plaintiff Is Appealing Dismissal of His Save Our Homes Challenge

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

State Wary of Property Tax Lawsuit; the Plaintiff Is Appealing Dismissal of His Save Our Homes Challenge

Article excerpt

Byline: J. TAYLOR RUSHING

TALLAHASSEE - The lead plaintiff behind a lawsuit that could erase Florida's Save Our Homes property tax benefit confirmed on Wednesday what state officials have long feared: The case is proceeding.

Jerome Lanning, a retired attorney in Birmingham, Ala., said he and his attorneys are appealing the lawsuit that was dismissed a month ago by a state judge in Leon County.

Florida's state lawyers had expected that and are wary of the case landing before the U.S. Supreme Court, where it would stand or fall on federal constitutional merits.

"We have absolutely no idea of not pursuing it," Lanning said. "It's a disparate tax treatment of non-Florida residents vs. residents. From the outset, our understanding going into this was that we would proceed to the Florida Supreme Court and then to the U.S. Supreme Court."

Lanning said he and his lawyers expected the suit would be dismissed in Florida courts, as it was on Aug. 6 in Leon County. Lanning and his wife claim their second home in Santa Rosa County, in the Panhandle, is being taxed disproportionately higher than their neighbors' homes simply because they are not primary Florida residents. Circuit Judge John Cooper of Leon County acknowledged that but said past decisions by the Florida and U.S. supreme courts allowed such disparate taxing.

State Rep. Bill Proctor, R-St. Augustine, said he is among a group of legislators and officials who fear the lawsuit could succeed, distressing property owners statewide and roiling the government.

Even if the case ultimately fails, Proctor said some officials fear Save Our Homes could not withstand a challenge even from a Florida resident.

"There are people who contend the situation would not stand a strong constitutional challenge," Proctor said. "People could also have adequate standing if they move into a neighborhood, buy a home identical to another next to them, and pay considerably more taxes simply because they came in new. If a group like that filed suit, that could be the end of Save Our Homes."

Voters added the Save Our Homes property tax benefit to the Florida Constitution in 1992. …

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