Floridians expected to vote on new property tax break

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida may give a large tax break to more than 4 million homeowners under a sweeping proposal that will likely go before voters next year.

The Florida Senate voted 28-10 Monday to put a constitutional amendment on the 2018 ballot that would allow homeowners to shield an additional $25,000 of the value of their home from most property taxes. The measure next heads to the Florida House, which is expected to approve the amendment since it is a top priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

“The regular guy and gal in Florida are on pace to have a legislative session where they win big,” said Corcoran after the vote.

If passed by 60 percent of voters it would be one of the most substantial tax cuts pushed through since then-Gov. Charlie Crist and the Republican Legislature put together a substantial property tax overhaul a decade ago.

The proposal is expected to save homeowners about $644 million a year, which has led to fears from city and county governments that passage of the amendment could lead to dramatic cuts in everything from police to park services.

“It’s absolutely unfair and irresponsible for us to pass a potential tax cut without telling people what the cuts are going to be,” said Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat.

Several opponents of the measure said that legislators were rushing to approve the amendment without telling voters that it could lead to higher costs for business owners and renters who won’t get the benefit of the tax cut. They said that voters would say `yes’ without understanding the brunt the amendment could bring with it.

Sen. Perry Thurston, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, said, “if you give red meat to animals, they will take it.”

But those who supported the amendment argued the tax break would help senior citizens on fixed incomes and encourage people to buy homes.

“For most families a home is their largest and most meaningful personal and financial investment,” said Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican.

And others who voted for the amendment argued that voters had enough time to study and understand it ahead of next year’s election.

“I happen to believe that the voters are pretty doggone smart,” said Sen. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat. “Now I know they elected Donald Trump but they were intoxicated.”

Florida has had a homestead exemption for decades that shields the first $25,000 from all property taxes. In 2008 voters added a second homestead exemption that shields an additional $25,000 in value from most taxes, but not school property taxes. Currently more than 4.3 million homeowners have homestead exemptions.

The latest proposal would shield an additional $25,000 from taxes but it would apply to those homes valued from $100,000 to $125,000.

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