Sunday, December 17, 2017
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State ballot stuffed with property tax breaks for veterans, low-income seniors

TALLAHASSEE — Three of the constitutional amendments voters will decide on next month achieved rare bipartisan consensus prior to landing on the contentious 2012 ballot.

Amendments 2, 9 and 11 — which offer tax breaks for disabled veterans, low-income senior citizens, and the spouses of veterans and first responders killed in the line of duty — all received unanimous approval in the Legislature.

The relatively low-impact proposals have not received the kind of opposition generated by more controversial amendments, as interest groups have focused on the larger tax cuts and hot-button social issues on this year's lengthy ballot.

The amendments — which require 60-percent of the vote — have perhaps the strongest chance of passing of any of the 11 proposals on the 2012 ballot.

Amendment 11, which passed the Legislature with a 156-to-0 vote margin, would slash the property taxes paid by some low-income senior citizens by a total of $9.4 million per year.

To qualify, the homeowner would have to be 65 years old, have lived in the home for more than 25 years and have an income of less than about $27,000.

Amendment 9 offers a property tax cut for the spouses of military personnel or first responders killed in the line of duty. If approved, it would allow local governments to eliminate most property taxes for these homeowners. Statewide, Amendment 9's annual impact would only be about $600,000, and no legislator voted against the proposal during this year's legislative session.

Amendment 2 would expand the current property tax cut for disabled veterans, allowing those who move to Florida after their injury to benefit from the tax break. Current law — which applies only to those who were already living in Florida at the time of their combat injury — benefits about 1,200 people. Expanding the tax break could add another 74,000 beneficiaries, according to state estimates. That could cost local governments about $7.6 million per year in reduced property taxes, though proponents say it will attract more homebuyers to the state.

A Suffolk University poll released last week found that 75 percent of voters supported the amendment to reduce property taxes for disabled veterans.

Still, some warn that the targeted tax breaks on this year's ballot would force other homeowners to pick up the tab.

"To the extent local governments increase millage rates to make up for the lost taxable value, these savings will be transferred to other property taxpayers," according to an analysis by Florida TaxWatch, a nonprofit group that has described the state's tax system as "convoluted and inequitable."

The Florida League of Cities, an advocacy group that generally opposes cuts to government revenue, has opted not to weigh in on amendments 2, 9 and 11. Instead, the group is directing its full attention to defeating Amendment 4, a wide-sweeping property tax proposal that could gut government revenue by hundreds of millions of dollars.

Considered the amendment with the biggest impact on property taxes, Amendment 4 would cost local governments an estimated $1 billion after three years. Among other things, it would reduce the cap on property tax assessments for non-homesteaded properties from 10 percent to 5 percent per year. Some have referred to it as the Save-Our-Second-Homes Amendment.

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