Monday, November 5, 2007

Republican Property Tax Disaster

The Republican legislature’s near total failure to place meaningful property tax reform on the January ballot provides an historic opportunity for Florida progressives to seize the issue, build the movement, bash the Republicans and, possibly, elect more progressive Democrats next fall. This is serious, people. An opportunity like this, and this big, doesn’t come often. It could be the fourth pillar of a realignment in this state on top of the Bush revulsion, the fracturing of the Evangelical movement and the Independent shift of Republican Hispanics. Advice to the Democrats: without endorsing or opposing the ballot measure, start running TV and radio spots slamming the Republicans for not putting real relief on the ballot. Soften them up.

Just look at the deep grave the Republicans have just dug themselves. Don’t you want to shovel the dirt on top of them? It’ll be up to you. By increasing the effective homestead exemption by a paltry $15,000, the average property tax cut they have just proposed is $240, which is no relief for the couple million angry voting Floridians who have bought homes in the past ten years and are paying taxes in the thousands of dollars. More recent buyers are paying in the double digit thousands. The taxes on my modest 1900 sq. ft. home jumped over 50%, $1200, when I bought it in 2000 and crept up another 21% since, while my income …. Well, let’s just say it hasn’t kept pace, and I’m one of the people less affected. The ballot measure DOES NOTHING for first time home buyers (renters), many many of whom are locked out of home ownership because they cannot afford the exorbitant property taxes on current values. The ballot measure perpetuates the grossly unjust disparities in tax rates on identical homes created by the annual 3% Save Our Homes cap, where next door neighbors with similar homes pay tax bills that differ by the thousands. Even the 10% annual cap on non homestead assessment increases is insufficient, having no relation to a business’ revenue. One result of this will be to force businesses such as public marinas to sell to condo developers, worsening the condization of Florida’s disappearing beaches. I mention this because it is common ground between the business and progressive communities and might serve as a source of funding for a progressive ballot initiative, at least from the more progressive elements of the business sector.

And on top of all of this, the ballot measure slices education spending in a range of $80 million to $600 million a year when we ought to be increasing our starving schools by a billion.

The only good feature of the measure, aside from the token tax relief, is that homeowners will be able to transfer their 3% cap exemptions to a new home. They’ll no longer be trapped in their homes, unable even to downsize because the taxes on their new home will be far greater than their capped taxes on their current home. Still, even this is a lot of illusion: it really only benefits long time homeowners who have accrued substantial assessment savings. It does almost nothing for people who have bought homes in the past five years or more.

Tomorrow: why we need to get a progressive tax reform on the November ballot.

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