Thursday, December 14, 2017
Politics

Gov. Rick Scott promises $1 billion in tax cuts for second term

TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott is promising Florida voters a $1 billion package of tax and fee cuts in a second term, including new limits on property tax increases and another cut in auto tag fees.

Every one of the proposals Scott will roll out in a two-week statewide tour starting Monday would require the approval of the Legislature, which previously has been lukewarm to Scott's call for a phase-out of the state corporate income tax and a sales tax break for manufacturers.

Scott's most ambitious tax cut idea would require approval of 60 percent of voters: a constitutional amendment to prevent property tax increases on homesteaded property if a home's value stays level or goes down.

"It's a political ploy. That's all it is," said former Republican Sen. Mike Fasano of New Port Richey, whom Scott appointed to be Pasco County's tax collector last year. "He's got to get the Legislature to agree with him and the impact would be just too great."

Property taxes are the backbone of all local government in Florida, and they increasingly carry the burden of paying for public school operations. The ability local governments have to keep up with growth during economic upswings is already hampered by the Save Our Homes amendment, which caps annual property tax increases at 3 percent. The Scott proposal would limit cities' and counties' ability to collect revenue during economic downturns as well by prohibiting tax increases if the assessed value of the home goes down.

Take a home bought 10 years ago for $150,000. The assessed value is now $200,000, but because of the Save Our Homes cap, the owner might be paying the artificially low taxable value of $170,000. So that means if that home's value drops to $198,000, its taxes would still climb by 3 percent because the taxable value, after years of caps, is "catching up" to its appraised value.

Scott's proposed amendment, however, would eliminate that "catch up" mechanism.

The proposal comes at a time when local governments are finally seeing revenues climb again after the prolonged hangover from the Great Recession. County taxes have been reduced by more than $3 billion since 2007, leaving many road projects and public safety improvement projects in limbo.

"We'll look at it and try to better understand the impact it would have," said Cragin Mosteller, spokeswoman for the Florida League of Counties. "We hope that anything that would further reduce our tax base would be measured against the needs of our citizens and our communities."

The same measure was included in Florida Amendment 4 in 2012, which was defeated by 57 percent of the vote.

A Scott campaign spokesman wouldn't say which year the governor intended the newest proposal to be voted on or whether commercial properties and vacation homes would be included.

"These policies will be implemented with input from the Legislature," spokesman Greg Blair responded in an email.

Some of Scott's tax ideas are not new and have been rejected by the Legislature in the past. Scott proposed a sales tax exemption for new manufacturing in 2013, but the Legislature approved a limited exemption for three years.

The lack of details left lobbyists for local governments reserving judgment.

"Obviously we'd be cautious about any tax cuts," said Amber Hughes, lobbyist for the Florida League of Cities. "We're still trying to figure out what it all means."

Scott's other proposals include $200 million in sales tax holidays, a $120 fee reduction on the $225 charge for first-time vehicle registrations, a reduction in taxes on cellphones of $120 a year and phasing out the 6 percent sales tax on commercial leases — an idea Scott proposed to the Legislature last spring that went nowhere.

Scott hits the road Monday to promote the proposals in a two-week statewide tour as part of his bid for re-election. Scott's call for another reduction in auto fees comes as a cut in vehicle registration fees, which he pushed for and should save a typical motorist about $25, goes into effect Tuesday. Friday's announcement contrasts with the tax and fee increases, mostly on cigarettes and car registrations, that his Democratic opponent for governor, Charlie Crist, approved during a major budget crisis in 2009.

The rhetoric from Scott's camp Friday also underscored a basic tenet of his re-election strategy, to link Crist with President Barack Obama in voters' minds as much as possible.

"We threw out Charlie Crist's Obama playbook," Scott said in a statement, "and now we're going to continue Florida's turnaround with a $1 billion tax cut commitment to Florida's families over the next two years."

Former Democratic state Sen. Dan Gelber of Miami Beach, speaking for Crist, said Scott was making "empty promises" to obscure the fact that he pushed for a $1.3 billion cut to public schools in his first year in office, and that despite Scott's 2010 campaign pledge to slash property taxes, Floridians are paying $400 million more today in property taxes than when Crist was governor from 2007 to 2011.

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