TALLAHASSEE — Jan. 29 will be remembered as an extreme triumph for Gov. Charlie Crist, the day he beat the critics and proved how hungry people are for property tax relief.
But to record history accurately, Jan. 29 should also go down as the moment Florida's unfair tax system became more so.
The plan Crist carried to victory with a steady regimen of sound bites and TV commercials only made Save Our Homes stronger by allowing longtime homeowners to take tax benefits with them when they move.
This "portability" exacerbated the inequities in Florida's property tax system, giving even more benefit to homestead property owners and not much to everyone else.
Amendment 1 — and the $9.3-billion in tax revenue it cut over the next five years — also left less room for lawmakers to right the system this coming legislative session and beyond.
Exhausted after a yearlong battle on taxes, there is little room for compromise on a new deal. Local government coffers are suffering under existing cuts, which approach $25-billion with a rollback and cap on property tax revenue already in effect.
More significantly, no Republican leader is willing to tackle the cause of the problem — Save Our Homes, which has suppressed property taxes for longtime homeowners, shifting the tax burden to everyone else.
Save Our Homes, approved by voters in 1992 and put into effect in 1995, limits annual assessment increases for homestead property owners to no more than 3 percent per year.
"People want it. It's popular. It's certainty," said House Speaker Marco Rubio.
Rubio, determined to maintain the spotlight on taxes, is eyeing two ambitious property tax plans despite the odds:
One would cap taxes on all property at 1.35 percent of taxable value. It's similar to what California did three decades ago with Proposition 13. The other is an overall cap on local and state government revenue and spending.
Either will have a tough time of passing. Another avenue is the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, a blue ribbon panel with the power to bypass the Legislature and put items on the November ballot.
But none of the measures currently under debate will correct the underlying problem of Save Our Homes, even as some people still hunger for a fair property tax plan.
They include homesteaded homeowners who bought during the real estate run-up and will not benefit from Amendment 1's portability for tax benefits; business owners who will see little, if any, tax break; and second homeowners who were largely left out of the Amendment 1 benefits.
People like George Cannan, 63, of Citrus County. He retired there in 2006 after living in the same home in Collier County for 23 years. Portability means nothing to him.
"This isn't a tax cut. It's the biggest screw job Florida has ever seen," said Cannan, who voted against Amendment 1. "People will wake up eventually and see this is bad for the state."
Cannan wants to join a class-action lawsuit filed by a Tallahassee lawyer challenging the constitutionality of Save Our Homes. Portability only sharpens those inequities, the suit asserts.
Crist, who was warned against a lawsuit, says he is not worried.
[Issues facing the 2008 Legislature]
For a Better Florida is the St. Petersburg Times' preview of the annual legislative session that begins Tuesday. Published every year since 1951,
it presents news articles and opinions intended to stimulate debate over some of the most important issues facing our state. This is the final installment of a four-part series, which began Feb. 10 (growth and energy), continued Feb. 17 with stories on education
and Feb. 24 with budget and gambling stories.
See previous installments at tampabay.com.
For A Better Florida