TALLAHASSEE — A move to give all Florida property owners a deeper property tax cut continued to gather steam in the Florida House on Monday as a committee voted to put the measure on the ballot as early as 2012.
The bill, approved by the House Community & Military Affairs Subcommittee, would give commercial property owners and those with investment homes in Florida a tax break that would match the one residential property owners now have under the Save Our Homes provisions of the state Constitution.
If approved by voters, the maximum increase in the assessed value of commercial and nonhomestead property would go from 10 percent to 3 percent. First-time home buyers would get a one-time $200,000 tax credit and all other homeowners would not see their taxes rise unless their property values increased.
The proposal, in effect, would give voters the option of enacting the deep property tax cuts sought by Gov. Rick Scott, who this year called for a $1.4 billion reduction in property taxes. Legislators have said they are unlikely to agree to it because it would require deeper cuts than they are prepared to make in the face of a $3.8 billion budget deficit.
But if voters approve the measure, economists predict the change would result in $231 million in revenue losses to cities and counties in the first year and as much as $1.2 billion in three years.
"We can't handle that,'' said Devan Suggs, lobbyist for the Florida League of Cities.
He said cities and counties, rather than benefit from an upturn in the economy, would be hurt because they wouldn't be able to capture any of the growth in property values.
Hallandale Beach city Commissioner Alexander Lewy warned that the measure could mean a loss of $900,000 to his city — more than the city's annual fuel bill, more than the city pays for sewer, water and utilities and more than the cost of a new fire truck. "I ask you to please reconsider this, because it would really be hurtful to the residents you represent,'' he said.
But Rep. Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary, the bill's sponsor, called that argument a red herring. He said this gives businesses the tax certainty they need to bring jobs to Florida.
Rep. Scott Randolph, an Orlando Democrat, voted against the bill because it locks in inequities created by the Save Our Homes amendment, which caps increases in property assessment at 3 percent a year. Now, however, if people's home values don't rise but their taxes had been capped, they can be required to pay more taxes. Under Dorworth's bill, if people's property values don't rise, their taxes don't rise.