Florida Property Tax Amendment Removed From Ballot

September 25, 2007

Yesterday, Leon County Chief Circuit Judge Charles A. Francis ordered a constitutional amendment that would slash property taxes off the January 29, 2008 Florida ballot.

The proposed amendment would replace the “Save Our Homes” amendment, which currently limits property tax assessment increases on homesteads (primary homes) to 3 percent per year. Each existing homeowner would choose to keep the existing limit or accept a “super exemption” of 75 percent off first $200,000 of home value and 15 percent off the next $300,000. The minimum exemption would be raised to $50,000 (compared to the current maximum exemption of $25,000), and new homes could only receive the “super exemption.”

The judge ruled that the ballot language did not make clear that the “Save Our Homes” limitations would be phased out, nor that existing homeowners who opt for the “super exemption” would lose the limitations:

Having read, reread, examined and studied the ballot summary under review, the court cannot find that the language is clear, concise, unambiguous and fair. The language at issue is misleading and confusing, and does not provide fair notice to the voter, educated or otherwise, of the purpose and effect.

The suit had been brought by a local official who opposes the ballot amendment. The lawsuit also challenged a separate law passed by the Legislature requiring cities and counties (but not school districts) to roll back and cap property taxes. The judge upheld that $15 billion tax rollback as constitutional.

No word yet on whether the decision will be appealed, but opponents are celebrating:

“You can’t criticize the court for pointing out defects previously pointed out on the House floor,” said Rep. Jack Seiler, D-Wilton Manors. “I can’t support any proposal that abolishes Save Our Homes, but we ought to at least clean the language up so that people understand what the ballot language does.”
“There’s five different things in that initiative, and it’s confusing. The public is not well educated on it at all … and they don’t understand the implications,” said Palm Beach County Commissioner Burt Aaronson.

Proponents are not:

“One way or another, we will give Florida taxpayers the relief they deserve,” [House Speaker Marco Rubio] said in a written statement defending the proposed ballot language as clear and straightforward.
‘This is what appeals courts are for,” [Senate Finance and Tax Chairman Mike] Haridopolos, the chief Senate champion of the measure, said. ”I respect what the judge had to say, but I’m not pleased. We are going to find every possible way to give Floridians a chance to vote for property-tax relief in January.”

More on property taxes here.

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