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CHALLENGE ON TAX BREAK TOSSED

Out-of-state residents said Save Our Homes is unfair.

The man who led a drive to put a homeowners tax break into the state constitution said Tuesday he was confident the amendment will survive an appeal that could wind up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

A lawyer for three out-of-state residents who have challenged the Save Our Homes Amendment said that's where his clients eventually expect to take their lawsuit after a Tallahassee judge dismissed it Monday.

The plaintiffs, a man and a couple from Birmingham, Ala., argue the amendment has unfairly shifted $7.8-billion in property taxes from primary homes to all other types of real estate including the vacation homes they own in Destin.

Circuit Judge John C. Cooper disagreed. He said the amendment does not discriminate against the Alabama residents even though their Florida tax bills have doubled since 1995.

"It's a very good decision," said Lee County Property Appraiser Ken Wilkinson, who led a citizens initiative that passed Save Our Homes in 1992. "I think it will be upheld."

The amendment limits annual increases in property assessments for primary homes, known as homesteads, to no more than 3 percent. That has meant other taxpayers, including owners of businesses, second homes and investment properties, have picked up a bigger share of the burden.

Plaintiffs' lawyer William Slaughter said that Save Our Homes violated equal protection and right-to-travel provisions in the U.S. Constitution.

Cooper said out-of-state residents who buy a house or condominium in Florida can qualify for the assessment cap by making that their primary home.

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