The Florida Legislature will meet next week in a Special Session to pass a property tax reform package. I am certain the Republican leadership of both chambers will have the votes to pass some measure of reform.
However, consider two interesting items:
First, The Buzz is reporting that Senate Minority Leader Steven Geller is the first to talk about not having specific numbers from the most recent proposal by House Speaker Marco Rubio and Senate President Ken Pruitt:
“I thought the deadline was today, but we can’t get up there on Monday and have nothing to discuss,” Geller said. “If we don’t have a plan by today or tomorrow, I think we have to postpone the session, at least until Thursday or something.”
The session is scheduled from June 12th – June 22nd, so they do have some time to delay and still pass meaningful reform.
However, another set of interesting facts has arisen from a Quinnipiac University poll:
Only 53% expect “the state legislature and Governor Crist will be able to agree on a plan that will significantly cut property taxes” – down from 60% in March; The definition of the term “significant” splits at 20%, with 43% saying up to 20% is “significant” and 43% saying 21% or more is “significant;” As household income increases, support for giving larger tax cuts to less expensive properties drops off significantly – go figure; 71% think that local governments have not done a good job of balancing taxes and services — this number has an interesting affect based on income lower income people feel more strongly about this than higher income, which means that some feel that local government could be doing more with what it collects; and Other than police and fire services, support for cuts has a direct and dramatic relationship to household income, with household s with incomes over $100,000 supporting cuts by 15 – 21% more than households with incomes under $30,000; 55% would be willing to accept fewer services in exchange for cutting taxes (and increase from 49% in March).
Here are the things local governments can not cut without some backlash: Police and fire services (85% oppose cuts), Programs for seniors (77% oppose), Public health clinics (77% oppose), School crossing guards (74% oppose), Libraries (73% oppose), and Parks & recreation (58% oppose). The only area included in the poll where there is supports for cuts laying off government employees – 47% to 45%.
The poll did not ask about things such as planning, zoning, permitting, code enforcement (although that is defined as public safety), neighborhood and public relations, affordable housing, child care licensing, and – a big one – transportation/transit services.
The most interesting number out of all of these was the 55% number. The question was: “In general are you willing to accept fewer local government services in exchange for lower property taxes?” Fifty-five percent said “Yes” and thirty-six percent said “No.” The St. Petersburg Times, at the end of today’s article turned it around to say: “55 Percent who support tax cuts even if services are cut” – which is not technically true.
But more important than an error by a newspaper is the number 55. You see, there is another number that will come into play early next year: 60. Part of the tax reform package will be a sweeping change to the homestead exemption law – further reducing property taxes. All amendments to the Florida Constitution require 60% to pass. The Legislature will put the proposed amendment before the voters during the January 29, 2008 presidential preference primary.
Now because the Legislature will cut taxes immediately, for the local fiscal year which starts in October, local governments will have to make some cuts. (How much is to be seen, as Geller noted above). So the voters, who barely support cutting both taxes and services, will be asked to pass more tax cuts after services have already been cut.
If I were a betting man, I’d be putting my money down that the amendment will fail… and we’ll still have our “Save Our Homes” problems.