House & Senate $540M Apart In Education Budgets Due To Property Tax Dispute

Mar 30, 2017
Originally published on March 30, 2017 5:45 pm

A rift has emerged along a now-familiar fault line in the House and Senate Education spending plans. The chambers are again at odds over how to count what’s known as the required local effort to fund public schools.

The required local effort is exactly what it sounds like. The local share of dollars that helps fund public schools around the state. That money mostly comes from local property tax revenues. As property values increase, owners pay more in taxes, which translates to more dollars for schools. The Senate wants to count the increase in its budget. The 535-million dollars in additional local school spending is based largely on those collections says Senate Education budget chairman David Simmons.

“We’ll have that so that we will be able to discuss it with our colleagues in the House. We have great respect for them and their analysis and opinions on this issue and we look forward to a discussion with them about what the facts are and what this number really comprises.”

If the chamber gets its way, local school districts will draw the money down through changes in their required local effort—the amount of money they add to property taxes. But there’s a problem. And that problem is in the Florida House.

“In our budget, the House’s commitment to reducing taxes results in a $509.4 million savings for property owners," says House education chairman Manny Diaz.

He's not interested in collecting the extra dollars. Diaz, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, have argued if more money is being collected through higher property values, that’s a tax increase on homeowners. Instead, Diaz wants to use state money to offset the increase in local effort. He calls it a rollback.

"We expend that $509 million to buy that rollback," he says.

The House plan would require local districts to collect less money, and they’d do that by rolling back their portion of the millege rate. Due mostly to differences in how to fund the required local effort, the House and Senate are $540 million apart in their education spending plans. Simmons says the House’s way could be seen as a tax cut—if districts are required to roll back their taxes in order to allow the state to fill in the gap. And he argues the Senate’s reliance on increasing values does not amount to a tax hike.

“There’s a difference between maintaining a level and actually giving a tax cut," says Simmons. "This is not a tax increase it’s simply keeping things as they are, and then including the new construction that comes on to the tax rolls.”

But House leaders have been firm about their stance—let the state use its dollars to fund the spending increase to public schools.  Under Florida law, the legislature has one job: to fund a budget. And those debates have now begun.

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