GOP lawmakers on Scott and higher taxes: 'This has got to stop'
When Gov. Rick Scott rolls out his budget proposal in Jacksonville next Monday, he will likely highlight tax cuts and more money for public education. But a spike in school spending will likely have to come from higher property taxes on small businesses and homeowners, and that has some Republican legislators angry.
"This has got to stop," says Republican Rep. Fred Costello of Ormond Beach.
Costello has decided it's time to force Scott and lawmakers to tell people the truth, that higher property taxes pay for schools. Costello wants to require a public notice of whether a state-imposed tax increase pays for a school budget increase, and that it be spelled out with a "clear and concise explanation" in newspaper ads, just as cities and counties do every year when they publish the roll-back rate.
"It's going to force us to say we're raising taxes," Costello said. "Nobody in Tallahassee wants to do that."
Scott's office sees it very differently. "Rising home values are good for the economy and homeowners. This bill seems to ignore that reality," spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said Friday.
As Florida's economy improves, the taxable values of homes and businesses go up. But what politicians don't talk about is that higher property values results in higher property taxes -- even if the tax rate doesn't go up. Every year, the governor and legislators pass a budget that requires school boards to impose a local property tax, known as required local effort.
Scott's appointees on the Board of Education support a proposed budget that would increase required local effort next year by $426 million, which is the lion's share of the board's proposed $476 million increase in K-12 spending -- an idea a key senator calls dead on arrival.
Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, chairman of the Senate budget subcommittee for education, says he likes the concept and is considering filing the Senate version of Costello's House proposal (HB 751).
"I cannot support a budget proposal that would place 80 percent of the burden of increased school taxes onto local property taxes and local school boards. I don't think that's right," Gaetz said. He wants the state to put more sales tax revenue into schools, which could jeopardize Scott's tax cuts, or reduce school spending and wipe out a Scott priority. "As legislators, when we functionally require a tax increase, we ought to own it. Because when we functionally cut taxes, we're the first to take credit for it. You live by the tax cut, you die by the tax increase."
Gaetz asked budget analysts to find out how the Board of Education's proposal would affect homestead property (homes) and non-homestead property (businesses and vacation homes) in three Florida counties: Okaloosa (where Gaetz lives), Orange (home of Senate President Andy Gardiner) and Hillsborough, the home of Senate budget chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon. The bottom line: Businesses get hit harder than homeowners.
Owners of non-homestead property in Hillsborough would be hit hardest, with a property tax increase of $94.48. Orange County non-homstead property would be hit with an increase of $86.25, and the spike in Okaloosa would be $52.82. Homeowners in all three counties would pay about $11 more, in part because the state Constitution's Save Our Homes amendment caps annual increases in the value of homestead property to 3 percent.
Costello says he has no illusions that his bill, entitled "an act relating to transparency in state education funding," faces an uphill fight. "The governor is going to hate it," Costello said.
When the Board of Education's K-12 budget surfaced in September, spokeswoman Schutz said the growth in school spending "is a result of the increase in the value of Florida property, which is a good thing."