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Proposed: Florida Constitutional Amendment 1 Increased Homestead Property Tax Exemption

Amendment 1: Increased Homestead Property Tax Exemption

Ballot summary: “Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to increase the homestead exemption by exempting the assessed valuation of homestead property greater than $100,000 and up to $125,000 for all levies other than school district levies. The amendment shall take effect January 1, 2019.”

Florida voters could face twelve different proposed amendments to the state Constitution on Nov. 6 – one of the longest lists ever. The amendments include complex changes to tax policy, banning offshore oil drilling and greyhound racing, expanding gambling, automatically restoring voting rights for ex-felons, setting new rules on lobbying, and whether Florida should ban vaping in public places.

Some of the amendments “bundle” several different ideas into one, meaning voters may be forced to vote for something they don’t like in order to approve something they want, or vice versa. (Three of the amendments are mired in a legal challenge that’s before the Florida Supreme Court)

What it’s about?

This is one of those issues that sounds simple and great for homeowners: Who wouldn’t want to get an exemption to lower their property tax bills?

But Amendment 1 has turned out to be controversial, with critics saying hundreds of millions of dollars could potentially be lost for local government services (such as police departments and libraries) if voters approve it.

The Florida Association of Counties estimates the potential lost revenues at $753-million — impacting cities, counties and other taxing boards — and that’s only for the first year if the Amendment passes.

So voters will be weighing the impact of getting a property tax break — even if it’s a couple hundred dollars — against the consequences of potentially lost revenues for public services.

Homeowners already get exemptions to shave off some of their property tax bills. The popular homestead exemptions go back decades as a way to keep the tax burden low for homeowners, particularly during tough times.

Right now, the first $25,000 of a home’s value is exempt from all property taxes. A second exemption of $25,000 applies to a home’s value between $50,000 and $75,000. That second exemption impacts revenues from many local taxes, but doesn’t affect school taxes.

Amendment 1 goes even further: It would allow another $25,000 exemption for home values between $100,000 to $125,000.

That will essentially allow a total of $75,000 in deductions for homes valued at $125,000 or more, according to the League of Women Voters of Florida, which is tracking the Constitutional Amendments on the Nov. 6 ballot.

That new exemption in Amendment 1 also won’t affect schools.

Who’s for it?

Homeowners looking for a break on their property taxes; lawmakers who approved the legislation in the spring of 2017 to create the new $25,000 exemption that would be placed on the ballot – though the legislative vote wasn’t unanimous.

Who’s against it?

A long list of public interest groups, including the League of Women Voters of Florida; the Florida Policy Institute; Florida League of Cities; Florida Education Association and the Florida Association of Counties.

The Florida Association of Counties says on its website: “The state is offering a ‘tax cut’ out of the pocketbooks of local communities rather than their own. It may be called a ‘tax cut’ but for many it will be a ‘tax hike’ as business owners, apartment dwellers, and others will likely pay more.”

Other key points

A chief concern is that if voters approve the measure to get a tax break, it could end up backfiring, because local governments may try to raise taxes to cover the losses from the exemptions. Or, local governments could reduce services to make up for the lost revenue.

Time will tell.

The Amendment needs 60 percent of the vote to pass.

Diane Rado has covered state and local government and public schools in six states over some 30 years, focusing on policy and investigative stories as well as legislative and political reporting. She spent most of her career at the St. Petersburg (Tampa Bay) Times and the Chicago Tribune.

This piece appeared in the Florida Phoenix and was reprinted by the Columbia County Observer with permission or license.

Graphic and layout by the Observer

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