Despite warnings that the inequities in Florida’s property tax system will only get worse, the Florida Senate voted Wednesday to ask voters to decide whether to lower taxes for second home owners, commercial properties and new homeowners.
The bill, a top priority of the Florida Association of Realtors, was passed 25-12, one more vote than was needed to reach the two-thirds threshold for a constitutional amendment. At least four Republicans vowed to come back in next year’s session and revise the proposal before it gets to the November 2012 ballot.
“This bill, although it’s headed in the right direction, doesn’t solve the problem,’’ said Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs. Because this will increase the number of homes and businesses that on the same street but with different tax rates, “we are compounding the inequity that exists in our tax laws,’’ he said.
But supporters suggested that the measure was needed to spur Florida’s anemic real estate market.
“We have literally tens of thousands of unoccupied homes in the state,’’ said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, sponsor of the bill. “We’ve got to create some incentives.”
The constitutional amendment lowers the cap on non-homesteaded property from 10 to 5 percent, affecting businesses, commercial property and second homeowners such as snow birds, and gives first-time homeowners a super exemption, which would phase out over time.
Anyone who hasn’t owned a home in Florida for three years would get a discount of 50 percent of the home’s assessed value, not to exceed 50 percent of the median home price in that county. The concept is patterned after a similar proposed amendment that legislators placed on the 2010 ballot which was rejected by the Florida Supreme Court for confusing language.
"This is huge,'' said John Sebree, president of the Florida Association of Realtors, which has been one of the top contributors to the Republican Party and Florida legislators over the last two years as they have pursued this issue. He believes that if Floridians approve the amendment, they will now help market Florida residential and commercial property to out-of-state investors.
He said they were open to coming back to revise the amendment "to help more people."
Also opposed to the amendment are cities and counties, which worry the bill will strip them of millions in tax revenue while exacerbating the already uneven tax rates.