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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Save Our Homes has day in court

Lawyers for the state today tried to beat back a challenge to Save Our Homes and portability, asserting before a Tallahassee judge that the underlying arguments have been tossed in other courts are therefore "anachronistic."

Solicitor General Scott Makar said Florida's property tax system treats everyone the same, new Florida resident or not, because the protection begins when a person establishes homestead.

"When you sign up for homestead they don't say 'Where you coming from?' so they can deny you some benefit," Makar told Circuit Judge Charles A. Francis, who heard a motion to dismiss. "Where is the discrimination Makar asked. "Where, oh where is the discrimination?"

Um, open your eyes, say the attorneys who filed the suit.

The class action suit seeks refunds for first-time homeowners and anyone who moved to Florida in the past four years and pays more taxes as a result because Save Our Homes did not shelter them from the recent run up in property values.

The attorneys said the earlier cases Makar cited, including the Nordlinger case attacking California's Proposition 13, did not directly address the constitutional "right to travel."

Critics say Save Our Homes, the annual 3 percent assessment cap, discriminates against new residents because their taxes are much higher than neighbors who have lived in a home for long time.

Allowing people to carry that accrued benefit, the lawsuit states, furthers the inequities. This "portability" was a major part of the Amendment 1 package voters approved in January. Gov. Charlie Crist says he is confident it will withstand a challenge.

Bruner"They are saying we got here first, so we're paying less," plaintiff Robert Bruner (pictured) told reporters after today's hearing. "It's a planted the flag argument -- 'We got here first, we get the better deal than you do.' It's constitutionally wrong."

Bruner, 61, moved to Florida from Indiana in 2005 and received homestead status in Leon County in 2007. That year, his tax bill was $8,100 - up 39 percent from the year before. In the four years prior to their purchase, taxes went up only $11.09, according to the complaint.

You can read more about the case here. And a previous story here.

Judge Francis has made the case a priority but did not say when he would rule on the motion to dismiss.

[Last modified: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 10:20am]


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