Amendment 1 May Not Be A Simple Proposition
The first of 12 amendments Florida voters will see on the ballot November 6th might seem like a straightforward proposal. But the facts around Amendment 1 aren't that simple.
It might seem like the easiest question on this year's crowded ballot: Do you want a cut in your property taxes?
After all, why would anyone say no to that?
But when it comes to Amendment 1, the reality may be a little more complicated.
First, some homeowners would increase the amount of their home that's tax-free. Your school taxes wouldn't be affected.
But, Hillsborough County Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez says it's a common misconception who would benefit.
"I think that people think that the additional $25,000 homestead is going to all homesteaded property owners," he said. "And it's not. It's only those who have property that's worth between $100,000 and $125,000 or more."
Now, lets hear from the two sides. First, the people who put Amendment 1 on the ballot. Like state Sen. Jeff Brandes of Pinellas County.
"This really is what this whole amendment is focused on, allowing people's hard-earned money to be kept by them, and not the government," he said. "You know, it should be hard to take your money."
"You know, it should be hard to take your money." - State Sen. Jeff Brandes
So why would anybody be opposed to that?
Amber Hughes of the Florida League of Cities says its passage would mean local governments would lose money. A lot of money. Meaning they would have to choose whether to cut services or raise taxes.
"The legislators that passed this would tell you that this is a tax cut. At the end of the day, while there may be revenue impacted, if really is a tax shift," she said.
A state analysis looked at the impact of Amendment 1, and estimates that across Florida, cities and counties would see more than half a billion dollars chopped from their tax rolls. Henriquez says in Hillsborough, that could add up to a shortfall of $23 million. Sarasota County officials say they would face a potential deficit of nearly $8 million in three years. And Pinellas County would face a shortfall of $42 million.
In South Florida, Palm Beach County commissioners are already looking at asking voters to approve an additional sales tax to pay for emergency services. Miami-Dade County officials are considering privatizing some bus routes to save money.
Hughes says wealthier homeowners would get a break, at the expense of renters and people whose homes aren't worth so much.
"The legislators that passed this would tell you that this is a tax cut. At the end of the day, while there may be revenue impacted, if really is a tax shift." -Amber Hughes, Florida League of Cities
"The way that our property tax structure works is that when someone wins, everyone else loses," she said. "And that's exactly what this does. This is one more piece of property tax legislation that picks winners and losers."
She says the winners would be the minority of people whose homes are worth at least $125,000. In wealthier counties, like Henriquez' Hillsborough, that's roughly half of the homes. It would save them an average of $250. But a study from the League of Cities says look at a poor rural county like Madison in the Panhandle. There, fewer than 800 of it's more than 4,000 homes would get a break.
Henriquez looked at Temple Terrace in Hillsborough County as an example.
"Temple Terrace is a largely homesteaded community, their tax base is very limited outside of homestead, out of residential property, so they'll be affected," he said. "And their budget is quite small, so they may say it's only a few hundred thousand dollars, that's a big deal in a smaller community like Temple Terrace."
And Henriquez says those smaller counties and cities may already be maxed out on how much they can tax.
"Depending on your taxing authority, you may not have the ability to raise your millage any more to make up for the shortfall, if that's what you choose to do. So then you'll have to cut services in some way.
And he says it's not easy to raise taxes in notoriously tax-averse Florida.
"Fom a political standpoint," Henriquez said, "most taxing authorities, politically would they be willing to raise the millage to make up the difference? As we know it, that's a very difficult lift for them."
But that's just the point, says state Sen. Brandes. It should be hard to raise taxes.
"The simple truth is that most of these local governments, just because of the increase in property value for them, most of them will be held harmless," Brandes said. "Especially in the larger communities, they're still going to see more revenue coming in, even after this Constitutional amendment passes, because of the increasing value in properties."
So deciding how to vote on Amendment 1 maybe isn't such a simple decision after all.