Homestead property tax change could cost Florida school districts millions

Superintendents and property appraisers are keeping an eye on the legislation.
Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, presents his bill to offer an additional education homestead exemption to some senior citizens, during a committee hearing on the first day of the 2019 legislative session. [The Florida Channel]
Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, presents his bill to offer an additional education homestead exemption to some senior citizens, during a committee hearing on the first day of the 2019 legislative session. [The Florida Channel]
Published March 11

A proposal to cap the education property taxes for Florida senior citizens who have owned and lived in their homes more than 25 years has captured the attention of school district leaders who already complain they can’t make ends meet with their annual revenue.

As lawmakers debate the merits of the legislation, which would require ultimate approval by voters, superintendents have begun asking their property appraisers just how much money they stand to lose if the measure goes through.

The amount could run into the millions.

Pasco County property appraiser Gary Joiner informed his school district that, if the law would eliminate school taxes for anyone age 65 or older who meets the criteria, Pasco schools would see a decrease of about $744,567. If a proposed amendment to freeze their education taxes were to pass instead, Pasco schools would lose about a quarter of that amount, or $201,760.

That equates to the salaries (approximately) of five starting teachers.

Extrapolate that out to 67 counties of various sizes, and you get the picture.

Bill sponsor Sen. Manny Diaz Jr. said during committee debate that he got the idea while on the campaign trail in his Hialeah-based district. He met several elderly residents who told him they felt they were unable to afford the taxes on their longtime homesteads, and needed relief to be able to remain.

Diaz said he wanted to find a solution that also wouldn’t harm school systems, which he acknowledged face rising costs. He scaled back his proposal from eliminating property taxes to freezing them at the bill’s first committee stop, and said he intended to seek other ways to further pare back the idea.

For instance, he and other said they would aim to create definitions so that the owners of multimillion-dollar homes would not be eligible for the tax protection.

The bill has not yet been scheduled for its next hearing. Its House companion has not yet been heard.

Related coverage: Senate considers education homestead exemption for Florida seniors

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