Florida property taxes drop by $2.28 billion over three years

TALLAHASSEE — Florida property taxes dropped by $2.28 billion, or 7.5 percent, over the past three years because of tax-cutting measures approved by the Legislature and voters as well as falling real estate values, according to figures presented to a legislative panel Thursday.

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"I would classify that as dropping like a rock," said Senate Finance and Taxation Committee Chairman Thad Altman, R-Viera.

Gov. Charlie Crist famously said he wanted taxes to "drop like a rock" as lawmakers began considering tax relief in 2007. They passed the law to roll back and cap property taxes later that year and then put a constitutional amendment on the January 2008 ballot that voters adopted for additional tax savings.

While taxes have come down significantly, the savings have been much less than the $24 billion over the first five years expected from the two measures before Florida's housing bubble burst. That sent property values on a downward skid and knocked the tax savings forecast for a loop.

Crist spokesman Sterling Ivey said the governor is not disappointed.

"Any reduction in property tax is good news," Ivey said. "There's more money in people's pockets. That's the bottom line."

Officials cannot be sure exactly how much of the tax reduction is due to the new law and amendment and how much has resulted from the real estate collapse, said James McAdams, the Department of Revenue's property tax oversight program director.

Taxable values for school purposes, though, declined less than 1 percent from 2006 through 2009, which would indicate the law and amendment are mostly responsible.

Overall property tax collections nearly doubled from 2000 through 2006, triggering an outcry from taxpayers that resulted in the tax-cutting measures.

Collections increased again in 2007 to a peak of $31 billion but the growth that year slowed to just 2 percent as the tax-limiting law began to go into effect. All of the increase was due to school taxes, which were spared from many of the tax-limiting provisions.

School taxes increased by 7.6 percent in 2007, but they dropped by 1.2 percent in 2008 and 6.8 percent in 2009 for a three-year decline of just under 1 percent and $100 million.

Nonschool taxes — including levies by cities, counties and special districts — declined by 12 percent over the same period for a three-year savings of $2.18 billion.

One reason property taxes haven't dropped even more is what's known as the "recapture rule" the state has applied to the Save Our Homes Amendment voters adopted during the 1990s. The amendment limits annual assessment increases to no more than 3 percent when values are going up. The rule, though, increases assessments by up to 3 percent if values go down.

Florida property taxes drop by $2.28 billion over three years 02/04/10 [Last modified: Thursday, February 4, 2010 10:23pm]

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