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House barrels ahead with property tax amendments

If the state's flailing economy was to give legislators any pause about embedding permanent tax cuts into the state Constitution, there was no sign of it in the House Military and Local Affairs Committee today. It passed along three constitutional amendments that would: 

* Give first-time homeowners a one-time property tax exemption that would disappear over five years;

* Expand the Save Our Homes-styled cap on commercial and non-residential property taxes from 10 percent to five percent

* Cap all property taxes at annual increases of 1.35 percent.

The concerns of local governments, particularly small, fiscally-strapped counties were easily dismissed.

"Small counties will tell you they're not going to be able to survive,'' said Rep. David Rivera, Miami Republican and sponsor of the 1.35 percent amendment. He noted that medium-sized and large counties make the same argument, given the $6 billion reduction in property taxes statewide expected if this passes. "The fact is, the ones that are not surviving are the taxpayers....The goal here is to provide tax relief plain and simple.''

Jack McCrae of AARP said his organization opposes the tax cuts. "The senior population is interested in having taxes as low as possible but also have quality services as possible,'' he said. He noted that Florida continues to be losing to other Southeastern states as retirement destinations because "they've got more services and a perception of greater quality of life."