Government

Senate Working to Change 2012 Property-Tax Amendment

By: Jim Turner | Posted: November 15, 2011 3:55 AM
Senators want to change the super exemption tax breaks offered first-time home buyers, and seasonal or second home owners, in a referendum already approved to go before voters next November.

David Simmons

Sen. David Simmons

Seeking to pump life into Florida’s anemic real estate market by making Florida’s property tax structure more equitable, Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, has proposed legislators replace the language in Amendment 4 that was approved for the ballot in the spring.

“We are in fact penalizing new home ownership,” Simmons said Monday. “I believe one of the major reasons that Florida has lagged behind other states in a rehabilitation of our economy is because we are de-incentivizing, we are penalizing, the acquisition by people of a new home.”

Under the measure currently proposed for the November 2012 ballot, anyone who hasn’t owned a home in Florida for three previous years would get a property-tax discount of up to 50 percent of the home’s assessed value. However, the 50 percent mark can’t exceed the median home price in that county.

Simmons’ "glitch" amendment, SJR 314, would lower the super exemption, while keeping a previously approved reduction of the cap on nonhomesteaded property taxes from 10 percent to 5 percent. Homesteaded properties assessed taxable value cannot rise more than 3 percent a year.

Simmons has been working on the new bill with the Florida Association of Counties, which opposed Amendment 4 in part because it could remove millions from local tax rolls. He proposes the super exemption be tiered at 30 percent for homes under $200,000 and 15 percent for property between $200,000 and $400,000.

Meanwhile, Realtors and the Florida Chamber of Commerce expressed apprehension about the changes.

The problem, they say, was that Simmons initially proposed readjusting property assessments, the assessments being fixed until receiving a “true-up” every five years over the 5 percent cap. The concern is that property owners budgeting for a 5 percent increase could be hit every five years with a 30 percent or more increase in a single year.

Bill Coleman, a commercial real estate broker from Orlando, saying the state should never have pushed the 2008 Save Our Homes Amendment One referendum, questioned the value of doing a “true-up” of values every five years.

“We should have left the thing alone prior to ’08, let the market flow the way it does, it goes up and down like a roller-coaster,” Coleman said.

The 10 percent cap was approved by voters as part of Amendment One in 2008, which also doubled -- on all but school district taxes -- the amount of each home's value exempt from property tax, from $25,000 to $50,000.

“Currently, with the true-up, the chamber would not be able to support the bill,” added David Hart, executive vice president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Without the true-up language, Simmons will have to continue to craft the bill for the business community.

Sen. John Thrasher, R-Jacksonville, expressed confidence that the terms of the glitch bill can be set that are acceptable to homeowners and business interests before the bill returns to the Community Affairs Committee.

“This is complicated and difficult stuff, his (Simmons’) intentions are good,” Thrasher said. “What we’re trying to do is compromise, look at, and craft a bill that is in the best interest of the citizens and economy of the state.”

The committee unanimously agreed Monday to keep Simmons' bill alive, moving the proposal on the Budget Subcommittee on Finance and Tax after removing a portion of the bill that would have tax rates re-evaluated every five years.

The bill was passed 25-12 in the Senate in the spring, one more than the two-thirds approval needed to be placed on the ballot.

Simmons said the market has suffered because the existing Save Our Homes structure has created a “great inequity” in property taxes between neighbors, between nonhomesteaded property and homestead land, and even with new home buyers having to pay current market assessments, while longtime homesteaded neighbors pay far less.

Simmons added that the inequity in property taxes, along with Florida’s mounting property insurance costs, is driving families to seek homes in Tennessee, Georgia and the Carolinas.

"This bill does not do away with Save Our Homes," Simmons said. "You either get a percentage exemption, the super exemption, or Save Our Homes, whichever is better for you."

The Revenue Estimating Conference has estimated Simmons’ bill could reduce costs to homeowners statewide by $565 million.

Reach Jim Turner at jturner@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859 or (772) 215-9889.


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