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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Crist launches campaign for tax amendment



ORLANDO (AP) -- From a three-bedroom home for sale since July on a quiet dead-end street Friday, Gov. Charlie Crist started his campaign to get voters to give themselves a property tax cut.

His message: approve the constitutional amendment on the Jan. 29 presidential primary ballot and instantly turn around the state's upside-down housing market. "The day after this thing passes, you will see people, I would predict, go to the home they previously thought they could not go to, because they felt trapped in the home they were in," Crist said.

But not everyone agrees with Crist, especially because the projected average savings per homeowner is just $240 off property taxes. So Crist is getting behind the "Yes on 1" campaign for the amendment to bring the message to voters. He was in the driveway of Keith and Elizabeth Markowitz and their 23-month-old daughter Jordis. The couple wants to build a bigger, more energy efficient home on Florida's Panhandle, but can't sell the one they have or afford taxes on the new one. They were asked a day earlier if the governor could come.

Keith Markowitz paid $1,892 in property taxes in 2007, according to county records, on a 2,645-square-foot home with a pool and market value of $235,895. He estimated the plan would save him between $1,500 and $2,000 — far more than the statewide average.

"Roll that into your mortgage, and that's substantial. Especially people that are living in or trying to move into premier areas, the coastal properties and stuff like that," he said. "The taxes are ridiculous. You just can't do it — your taxes are $6,000, $8,000."

The constitutional amendment must be approved by 60 percent of voters. It would double the homestead exemption from $25,000 to $50,000 and place a 10 percent assessment cap on all properties. It would also provide what Crist calls "portability" of the existing 3 percent assessment cap on primary homes — so residents could pay taxes on new homes similar to those on the place they move from.

Critics of the present system say it unfairly penalizes empty-nesters trying to move into smaller homes and growing families looking for a larger one.

But the amendment has plenty of opposition — from conservative tax advocates saying it doesn't cut enough to teachers, the Florida League of Cities and others arguing it will cripple education and public services.

"Reports we've heard from various trade groups and economic groups indicate that that is not at all likely, that the next day there is going to be a magic revitalization of the Florida economy," said Mark Pudlow, spokesman for the state teacher's union. "Actually it appears as though we are going to be having an economic downturn at least through the next year, and probably longer than that.

"I think it's important the voters understand that, the governor's optimism notwithstanding, there are real impacts in approving this property tax deduction," Pudlow said. "All of this comes at a time when by every indication Florida is at the bottom of rankings for states as far as funding for education."

Real estate agents support the amendment, as does business as a whole — so the campaign to pass it will be more vocal and better-funded. The plan benefits them by capping assessments on second homes, along with business properties and rentals.

Crist drew criticism last week for appearing with Donald Trump, whose Palm Beach mansion is appraised at $58 million, at a fundraiser to pass the amendment.

On Friday, he called it a break for "everyday Floridians."

"You have the power to cut your own taxes Jan. 29th," he said. "You have been empowered by this great Florida Legislature to do what you've asked us to do over and over again."

Story by Travis Reed, The Associated Press. Photo by John Raoux, AP

[Last modified: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 2:11pm]


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