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Florida's homestead tax break holds up on appeal

TALLAHASSEE — Three out-of-state residents who own second homes in Florida lost another round Wednesday in their challenge to property tax breaks that primary homeowners get under the state Constitution.

A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal unanimously agreed that objections raised by the three Alabama residents previously had been rejected by other appellate courts in similar tax fairness cases. The brief, seven-page opinion affirmed a trial judge's ruling.

Jerome and Joyce Lanning and Ann Reese, who own second homes in the Florida Panhandle, had argued the constitution's Save Our Homes Amendment violated equal protection and travel rights in the U.S. Constitution. The amendment caps annual assessment increases at 3 percent for owners of primary homes, known as homesteads.

District Judge Philip Padovano wrote for the panel that the U.S. Supreme Court in 1992 rejected the same claims against California's Proposition 13, which also limits property taxes.

In that case, the justices ruled it was permissible to give more tax benefits to longtime property owners than to newcomers because the state had a "legitimate interest in local neighborhood preservation, continuity, and stability."

Padovano also cited his court's 2000 ruling that Florida's $25,000 homestead exemption did not violate federal constitutional rights. While this case involves the assessment cap, the legal analysis is the same, Padovano wrote.

Voters approved another amendment last year that capped assessment increases for nonhomestead properties at 10 percent. The Legislature has put another amendment on the 2010 ballot that would lower that limit to 5 percent.

The 2008 amendment also lets primary homeowners take at least part of their Save Our Homes benefits with them when they move to another home. That provision also drew a challenge but was rejected by a trial court. An appeal in that case is pending before the 1st District.

Florida's homestead tax break holds up on appeal 08/26/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 26, 2009 9:49pm]
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