From Don Gaetz – vote near

From the Senate Floor (4 pm EST)
Within the next hour the Senate will vote on the statutory part of the proposed comprehensive property tax relief and reform legislation.

Based on discussions happening now, it appears as if Democrats will join Republicans in voting for the remaining provisions which will:

  • roll back property taxes for all taxpayers one year
  • cut property taxes for all taxpayers based on the past taxing behavior of each county and city (the biggest tax takers in the last five years will see the deepest cuts)
  • place caps on future taxes; property taxes would be limited to the increases in average annual per capita income, which has been running about 4 percent

These tax cuts and limits would go into effect immediately and be applicable to the taxes that are payable in November, 2007.

I will join my fellow Republicans in voting for the statutory provisions just as I voted for the constitutional changes that dramatically increase the homestead exemption and provide a significant degree of portability.

This package of tax reforms and tax relief came from six months of listening to Floridians and thoughtful analysis and hard work. The Senate Finance and Tax Committee, led by the brilliant Senator Mike Haridopolos, came first to Northwest Florida to learn the concerns, criticisms, and suggestions of citizens.

In January, over 500 people crowded into a meeting room in Panama City to share their ideas with Senator Haridopolos, with me, and with other legislators. That meeting kicked off a state-wide effort to give taxpayers unprecedented input into tax policy.

As a taxpayer, I’m deeply grateful to Mike Haridopolos for his day and night work, his passionate commitment to less government and less taxes, and his eloquent and persuasive presentation and defense of this landmark legislation.

For years, Mike has been the Senate’s champion for real tax reform. Senate Majority Leader Dan Webster and Tax and Finance Vice Chairman Ted Deutch played major roles in the effort, as well.

Notwithstanding my decision to vote for the bills, there are aspects of the legislation I wish could have been different. Neither the constitutional amendment nor the statutory provisions are perfect.

For example, I had hoped that the Senate would agree to amendments that would change the presumption and burden of proof in cases when taxpayers challenge a property appraiser’s valuation decisions.

Under current law, the taxpayer is presumed to be wrong. I favored an amendment that would shift the presumption and give taxpayers challenging the validity of assessments at least a 50/50 chance to prove their case. I also favored making it more difficult to break the taxing caps, which range from 2/3 majority of the members of a local government board to voter referendum.

Respondents to our want to set a very high standard for government to raise taxes over and above the approximately 4% average increase in annual per capita income. (Final results from our gulf1 poll are attached.) Therefore, I attempted to amend the legislation to raise the lowest approval threshold from 2/3 to at least ¾.

Unfortunately, there was insufficient support for either amendment to get traction in the legislative process. But we did beat back amendments from the Democrats that would have made it easier for local governments to break the limits and tax more.

The legislation provides some tax relief for businesses, but not as much as I would have preferred. We were successful in including a $25,000 exemption from tangible personal property taxes. This will save a million Florida small businesses a billion dollars and also save them the aggravation and expense of preparing a tax return.

During the debate today, I and other senators received commitments from leadership and from the bill sponsors to continue with other tax reform measures in the next regular session of the legislature. I believe we need to do more for commercial property owners, more to encourage affordable housing, and more for small waterfront businesses and others that are being assessed on “highest and best use” instead of actual use.

We were able to convince Democrats to join us in placing the constitutional amendments on the ballot for the Presidential primary, which is moved up to January 29. The impact of this timing is to start the super homestead exemption and functional repeal of tangible personal property taxes a year earlier than would be the case if the vote were on the November, 2008, general election ballot.
I’ll have more to report to you after the final votes today. As it appears, the House and Senate will agree before the close of business and the special session on property taxes will be over by nightfall.

Thank you again for all your communication. Your encouragement, your support, and your observations have made me a far better Senator for Northwest Florida.