TALLAHASSEE — A constitutional amendment that will give voters the opportunity to modestly lower the annual increases of the assessed value of their property is moving through the Florida Legislature intended for the 2024 ballot. It could result in lowering annual increases in property taxes.
But opponents say the measure will unfairly hamstring the state’s 29 smallest counties, reduce revenue going to local government and schools, and shift tax burdens from homeowners to newcomers and low-income residents, including many who rent.
The House Ways and Means Committee voted 13-8 on Monday to advance the measure, HJR 469, with one Republican joining Democrats to oppose the bill.
If 60% of voters approve, the amendment would modify the Save Our Homes provision in the Constitution by lowering the cap on the amount a home’s assessed value could increase from 3% a year to 2% a year, potentially lowering people’s tax bill.
The amendment would take effect on Jan. 1, 2025, and because it is a joint resolution, it is not subject to the governor’s veto powers.
Early forecasts from the Legislature’s revenue estimators are that the measure will save taxpayers $146 million statewide, with about $93 million coming out of county coffers and $53 million from public school budgets.
Big counties lose the most but small counties feel it more
Legislators have not asked for detailed estimates of what the change would mean to their counties and schools, but the Miami-Dade County Commission has endorsed the proposal, which is being sponsored by local legislators, Sen. Bryan Avila, R-Hialeah Gardens, and Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin, a Republican who lives in unincorporated Miami-Dade County.
Miami-Dade County, which predicts it will lose $7 million off its $11 billion budget, faces the largest impact in the state.
“Right now we’re going through a very difficult economic time,” Avila told the Senate Community Affairs Committee when he presented the bill on Feb. 15. “Something like this would go a long way to mitigate that cost of living. It would cause cities and municipalities to reassess their spending.”
But Sen. Jason Pizzo, a Hollywood Democrat, responded that the savings will average about $10 per residential property in Miami and “didn’t make a lot of sense.” A better initiative, he said, would have been to impose a cap on the rising cost of property insurance, something legislators have repeatedly refused to consider.
“When we ask constituents; ‘Do you want to lower [the cap] from 3% to 2%,’ of course they’re gonna say yes, because it’s less money,” he said. “... So we’re going to the weakest link — or that which is easiest to preempt — because we just don’t have either the acumen or the will to put a cap on things that are exploding at a much faster rate.”
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Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat, said on Monday that because expensive homes appreciate more quickly than middle- to lower-cost homes, the change will benefit higher-income homeowners more than those with lower-value homes and will lead to wider disparities over time.
“I am concerned that if we are trying to get relief to people in need, this is not very targeted,” she said. “The people who do benefit the most are the wealthiest who don’t necessarily need that break compared to renters, compared to folks that will rely on the government services maybe more than others.”
While homeowners pay their property taxes directly, renters pay indirectly because a portion of their monthly rent goes toward their landlords’ property tax bills.
Longtime homeowners benefit most
Bob McKee, an analyst with the Florida Association of Counties, which opposes the proposal, said that for decades, Florida has been shifting the cost of the tax burden in a way that advantages longtime homeowners. Instead, the tax burden has been growing disproportionately against new residents to Florida, first-time home buyers, owners of second homes (who aren’t eligible for the cap on annual increases of assessed value) and commercial property owners — including those that own rental property.
“It used to be the principle in property taxation that I can walk out my front door and I can look across the street and I can tell you that if I have to pay the tax, at least the person across the street would have to share the same or similar burden,” he said. By changing the cap on the assessment to 2%, “this bill just moves further away from that.”
In 1992, voters approved an amendment to the Constitution that limited any increase in the annual assessment of homestead property to 3% of the assessment for the prior year or the percent change in the Consumer Price Index, whichever is lower.
Rep. Doug Bankson, a Republican from Apopka, said he opposed the bill because it reduces the revenue tools local governments use to address local needs.
“I think that tool is needed to be able to meet those challenges,” he said, before voting against the bill.
Chris Doolin, a lobbyist for the small county coalition, warned that many of the state’s smallest counties cannot raise their tax rates and shift the cost to make up for lost revenue, potentially causing them to make deep cuts to services.
In the past, Doolin said, legislators have created safety nets to offset the drop in income for those small counties, but no such plan has emerged this year.
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