Senate will take dead aim at Gov. Scott's 'property tax increase'
UPDATE: Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, issued a statement to the Times/Herald Tuesday in which he said Gov. Rick Scott's proposed school budget would raise taxes. Here's the full statement from his spokeswoman, Katherine Betta: "President Gardiner agrees that rising home values are a good thing, but the practical impact of rising property values is higher property taxes and the President thinks our state can take steps to mitigate the impact by reducing the RLE (required local effort) and allowing homeowners across the state to keep more of their hard-earned money."
Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Senate have been on a collision course for months over how to pay for a big increase in public school spending, and a major showdown is looming on Thursday in a budget subcommittee.
Under Scott's budget proposal, nearly 90 percent of the boost in K-12 funding would come from higher property tax bills charged to businesses and homeowners through a budget provision known as RLE, or required local effort -- an annual funding decision that the governor and Legislature set for all 67 county school districts. Growth in Florida property values means higher property taxes locally, even if the tax rate doesn't go up.
Scott has called this trend "a good thing," but a growing number of his fellow Republicans in the Legislature call it a tax increase.
The Senate budget subcommittee for education on Thursday will vote on a proposal by its chairman, Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, to decrease the amount of property taxes to a level that evenly matches the state's contribution 50-50. A draft of Gaetz's proposal shows that would require increasing the state's share of K-12 support by $254 million. Gaetz said Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, has been generally supportive of his proposal to reduce what he calls Scott's "$500 million property tax increase."
Scott's office pushed back hard on Gaetz, calling him "flat wrong" Tuesday. "Gov. Scott maintained the millage rate at the current levels," spokeswoman Jackie Schutz said. "When home values rise, that is a good thing for families in our state, and to call that a tax increase is flat wrong."
The news for Scott could get even worse. Asked what would have to be cut to find that new $254 million in general revenue, Gaetz said: "Maybe this is a better way to provide economic stimulus and tax relief than to give a tax break to large corporations."
Under Scott's proposal, public school spending would increase by $507 million next year, and $427 million of that, or 84 percent of the total, would come from property taxes. The Senate has calculated the effect of Scott's budget on property tax bills on non-homestead property, generally defined as businesses and vacation homes, in selected counties. Those taxpayers would pay $120 more next year in Miami-Dade, $92 more in Broward and $73 more in Hillsborough.