In a ballot initiative that caught the attention of Florida tea party conservatives and low-tax advocates the country over, North Dakota voters on Tuesday said "no" to making their state the first in the nation to end property taxes.
In fact, more than 76 percent of the electorate turned down Measure 2, according to returns from the North Dakota secretary of state.
Voters agreed with the chamber of commerce and local governments who were opposed to the measure for fear the revenue hit would jeopardize funding for school systems, infrastructure projects and other key programs.
Nevertheless, some folks in the Sunshine State envied the Peace Garden State the opportunity, and say they hope some bold conservative in the Florida Legislature will take the idea up.
Harold Carmichael, a retired Navy engineer from Miami Lakes who frequents South Florida tea party rallies, claims, "This is just what Florida needs, an initiative like this to get the idea out there. Let's float it and get some conversation about it. If nothing else it might result in a move toward lower property taxes."
Carolyn Crighty, tea party activist in Escambia County, said she's disappointed North Dakota didn't "go for it, show the rest of the nation how a fiscally conservative state gets the job done. Property taxes aren't realistic," she said. "People's homes have risen in value faster than their paychecks and they can't afford to pay it. Property tax is a big part of Florida's foreclosure rate."
Tea party initiatives to consider similar amendments to the state constitutions are also gathering steam in Texas, Pennsylvania and North Carolina.
North Dakota is decidedly different from the Sunshine State. Not only is it the nation's 48th least populous state, it boasts the lowest unemployment rate in the country and has become the nation's second-biggest oil producer. As a result of the energy rush, government coffers are flush with revenue.
North Dakota's general-fund appropriations have gone from $2.5 billion in the 2007-2009 biennium to $3.3 billion in the 2009-2011 biennium to $4.1 billion in the current 2011-2013 biennium. Even with that rapid spending growth, North Dakota isn't spending nearly all that it brings in: The state is expected to have $1.5 billion in reserve when the current biennium ends 13 months from now.
The North Dakota Legislature has responded by moving to lower property taxes. In both 2009 and 2011, lawmakers directed additional state money to school districts, then required the districts to levy lower property taxes. But that wasn't enough for some citizens, who saw no reason why property taxes couldn't be scrapped altogether -- and it was they who moved to bring the constitutional amendment to a vote.
Florida TaxWatch President Dominic Calabro told Sunshine State News that elimination of the property tax in Florida, which collects $23-$25 billion in the 67 counties, is highly unlikely. Compare that to the approximately $812 million in property taxes collected in North Dakota.
"We are without a state income tax. You can then imagine that Florida's (property tax collections) would be a mighty big number to find elsewhere," he said. "Property taxes are the primary source of local government funding in our 67 counties."
But Calabro said that Amendment 10, "a modest proposal" to reduce Florida's $1.7 billion tangible property tax, will appear on the November ballot. If enacted, it will offer an exemption from ad valorem taxes levied by local governments on tangible personal property with a value greater than $25,000 but less than $50,000.
The legislatively referred constitutional amendment was sponsored by Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, R-Orlando.
Reach Nancy Smith at email@example.com or at (850) 727-0859.