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House Looks to Clamp Down on Local Taxes

March 8, 2017 - 8:45pm

A wide-ranging bill that would rein in local governments' ability to increase taxes narrowly passed the House Ways & Means Committee on Wednesday.

The committee approved the measure (PCB WMC 17-02) on a nearly party-line vote, 9-7, with Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-Treasure Island, joining all the committee Democrats in opposing the measure.

The bill would require local governments, except for school boards, to spend down money saved in some special funds before approving increases in property taxes.

"When you're sitting down to do your budget for the next year and deciding what tax rate you need to levy, if your cash position as a local government is such that you could make the choice to spend the money you have in the bank instead of raising taxes, that is the choice we would like to see you do as a result of this bill," said Rep. Matt Caldwell, a North Fort Myers Republican handling the legislation.

The proposal would also restrict cities and counties from passing local option taxes if they have approved property-tax increases within the last three years. An increase in sales taxes for school construction would have to pass a school board with a four-fifths supermajority.

And the measure would require any local referendums raising taxes to gain 60 percent of the vote to pass. Such questions also would have to go before voters during general elections. Voters would also have to approve any moves by local governments to take on debt longer than five years.

Critics contended the legislation was confusing and too restrictive on local governments.

Amber Hughes, a lobbyist for the Florida League of Cities, said different accounting methods among local governments might make it difficult to figure out the meaning of certain terms in the bill --- like the excess fund balances that the legislation targets.

"When I send (a message) out to my finance officers and say, 'Do you meet these thresholds?' and they say, 'We have no idea; we don't even know how to calculate it' --- that's concerning to me," Hughes said.

Others zeroed in on the bill's mandate that a supermajority of voters approve tax referendums.

"To start imposing 60 percent requirements to get anything done, I just think is anti-democratic," said Rep. Joseph Geller, D-Aventura.

The bill comes amid a debate at the Capitol about the proper role of local governments. A measure that would severely restrict the authority of local governments to pass business regulations (HB 17) has already been approved by one of its two House committees.


Great legislation for Florida taxpayer's

This is welcome news. In Hillsborough and Pinellas Counties we have CINO's (Conservatives In Name Only) trying to raise taxes to pay for things like rail when previous attempts were overwhelmingly defeated in previous referendums. The pro-tax politicians never give up. Not that what goes on in Tally is perfect, but this law would help us force local officials to live within their means.

Wonderful! This article makes my day. I hope it passes so we in the middle class can stop being squeezed by special interests who put in millions to "educate the voters" on the benefits of spending on boondoggle XYZ (ie, stadium, park, train, BigCorp, etc). They conspire with politicians to hold the vote in off-cycle elections when most of the public isn't paying attention. They claim they need the taxes while harboring slush funds for their other pet projects. And Rep Geller, read Florida's constitution where voters already much meet 60% threshhold for all constitutional amendments. Forcing one to fork over their hard-earned money deserves a higher standard.

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