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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Crist stumps for property tax cuts in Senate



Gov. Charlie Crist showed up at the Senate Finance & Tax Committee this morning to push for a bill that would create a large homestead exemption for first-time buyers.

But the endorsement did not temper concerns over another part of the bill, a 5 percent assessment cap for nonhomestead property that drew stiff opposition from business interests who say it will create Save Our Homes like inequities.

Crist said the exemption would be a "blessing" to "young couples that may want to get a first home or a family starting out or even somebody like me, who's never bought a home, and I'd like to buy my first home."

The newly revised Senate version calls for an additional homestead exemption equal to 25 percent of the just value up to $100,000 and will gradually go away. The House calls for a 50 percent exemption on $250,000 in value. Either version would go before voters in November 2010.

The governor also supported the assessment cap but several business owners and tax professionals argued against it. "You're going to create the exact problem we have with homes," said Jeff Mandler, a tax attorney from Miami.

Bradenton Sen. Mike Bennett agreed. "Half of our problems today are the solutions of yesterday," he said of the 3 percent homestead assessment cap voters approved in 1992.

The panel gave unanimous support for the bill, but it clearly has hurdles given the opposition. There are three more stops in the Senate.

Crist told reporters later that he thinks the ideas work well together and that voters should decide their value.

"If there are some concerns, trust the people," he said. "At least let them have the chance to weigh in on such an important issue. They are smarter than all of us put together. And they'll make the right call. But you've got to give them the freedom to vote on it."

Crist has been turning up the heat on the issue, which he included in a tax proposal before the session began. He attended a House meeting on the homestead exemption last week. The House has split the exemption and assessment cap, though Speaker Larry Cretul told Realtors this week that he'd like to see them joined.

The more generous House homestead proposal would take $53 million from schools in 2011-12 and could increase to $156 million by 2015-16, according to state economists. Local governments would see a $67 million hit in the first year, increasing to $202 million in 2015-16.

[Last modified: Thursday, September 9, 2010 7:36pm]


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