August 10, 2008

Tax swap poses tough math problem for Legislature

Amendment 5, the major constitutional ''tax swap'' on the November ballot that would replace school property taxes with other revenues, poses one of the biggest math problems the Florida Legislature will ever have to solve.

If the amendment passes, the numbers will be tough to work out, due to the Legislature's cloudy fiscal track record and some vague wording in the measure itself.

The amendment calls for the complete elimination of the state-set property tax for schools -- 25 percent of the average property-owner's tax bill. To replace the lost money, the amendment says, legislators would have to increase the sales tax by a penny, eliminate some sales-tax exemptions, levy new taxes or even cut the budget.

How much tax revenue will they have to replace? Maybe $9.3 billion. Maybe $11 billion. No one's quite sure. Though the amendment demands that the Legislature make up the lost education money, it's unclear how to figure the amount, according to state economists.

More here

June 23, 2008

Haridopolos to McKay: Let's get ready to rumble

Sen. Mike Haridopolos, who has put together a coalition to battle the tax swap proposal going before voters this fall, issued a challenge on Monday to former Senate President John McKay. The Brevard County Republican wants to go mano a mano against McKay to debate Amendment 5, which Haridopolos contends will be a train wreck for the state's economy.

Haridopolos says that he wants members of the public to understand the impacts of the amendment - which calls for eliminating property taxes and then replacing some, but not all, of the money with a one-cent hike in the sales tax. He would like to hold debates in all the major media markets of the state. Haridopolos, who has not issued his challenge personally to McKay, said if the senator declines his invitation then his group, Protect Florida's Future, will go ahead and hold town hall meetings to talk to people about Amendment 5.

May 29, 2008

Save Our Homes challenge gets hearing

A class action lawsuit that asks the state to throw out the Save Our Homes amendment and reimburse newcomers to Florida who have been unfairly discriminated against got its first hearing in Leon County Circuit Court Thursday.

The case, before Judge Charles Francis, brought by three recent residents to Florida, alleges that the constitutional provision to cap property assessments at 3 percent a year and the new portability provision that allows homeowners to take the savings with them when they move discriminates against newcomers to Florida.Download soh_lawsuit.pdf

Here's the lawsuit.

May 19, 2008

Tax swap fight to become summer air war

Put aside the Clinton vs. Obama and McCain fights for a moment and consider a summer of political ads accusing black-hat corporate interests of getting million-dollar tax breaks at the expense of hard-working Floridians if they approve an amendment to the state constitution.

''Robin Hood in reverse'' is the image the Florida Association of Broadcasters wants viewers to have when the group donates hours of television ads and airtime between now and November to kill the tax swap, Amendment 5. The ads will focus on the fact that the tax swap would allow out-of-state corporations with properties in Florida to reap big savings when the tax bill drops for everyone.

"'We plan to make sure every voter, and every citizen knows what greedy corporate commission members tried to do and, when it's over, I hope they're all embarrassed,'' said Pat Roberts, executive director of the broadcast trade association.

He hopes to raise $5 million through the backing of nearly every major business association in Tallahassee, education groups and the Republican presiding officers of the House and Senate in 2010 -- Sen. Mike Haridopolos and Rep. Dean Cannon.

But the proponents, led by amendment sponsor John McKay, a former Senate president and tax commission member, plan to mount their own campaign to educate voters and push the amendment. Read full story here.

May 14, 2008

Tax cap and redistricting supporters get their say

Here's something to jazz up the summer in Tallahassee: Public hearings and meetings regarding three pending constitutional amendments that could show up on the 2010 ballot.

State economists are holding financial impact statement conferences on both the 1.35 property tax amendment, as well as two amendments dealing with Congressional and legislative redistricting, in order to develop wording for a financial impact statement should any of the three amendments make the ballot.

Both amendments require a lot more signatures in order to make the ballot. Supporters of the amendment that would cap property taxes at 1.35 percent of the value of the property has collected more than 103,000 signatures, while supporters of the redistricting initiative have gathered about 65,000 signatures. It takes more than 600,000 signatures in order to qualify for the ballot.

April 25, 2008

Ghost of Jeb wins: Vouchers is on the ballot

With their hallmark piece of tax reform safely on the  ballot, opposition melted Friday against a proposal to enshrine into the state Constitution a protection for private school vouchers.

The Taxation and Budget Reform Commisison voted 19-6 to give voters a chance in November to

undo a 2006 court ruling that struck down a school voucher program. The citizen panel meets every 20 years and has the power to put amendments directly on the ballot. Its vote Friday followed a hard-fought debate on Thursday when it agreed to place a major tax reform before voters: to ask them to eliminate property taxes that pay for schools and force the legislature to expand and raise sales taxes to replace them.

This will be the second amendment on the ballot designed to reverse the court ruling. The panel already approved an amendment that would remove the constitutional ban on using taxpayer money for religious-based or church-run schools and institutions.

Three members of the panel reversed their vote on the voucher element from two weeks ago, when it failed to get the 17-vote margin needed to get onto the ballot.

Supporters called it a "measured and limited" proposal, saying it would have a positive impact on the state's balance sheet and open the door to innovation and options in education for decades ahead.

Opponents scolded the commission for not exercising self-restraint, bringing an ideological proposal, first sought by former Gov. Jeb Bush, into the budgetary mission.

"I don’t know why you think it’s within your mandate or your mission when this exact same legislature has the ability to put things on the ballot,'' said Rep. Dan Gelber, a Miami Beach Democrat and non-voting members of the commission. He warned it tainted the commission's mandate with something that is "really a frolic and ideological pork.''

Opponents attempted and failed to get protections in place to make sure vouchers only go to school that are safe, efficient and high quality while the proponents attempted to narrow the amendment to make sure it does not create an entitlement for people have their private education funded with public money.

"A free public school system is the corndersotne of a free society,'' said Martha Barnett, a commission members and Tallahassee lawyer. "I understand different people require different kinds of educaitonand we need to accmodate that but I believe that public dollars should be spent on public ecducaiton and I bleive the people of the state of Florida agree with me on that.''

The panel has already placed six amendments on the ballot, including the tax swap plan. It next will vote on requiring schools to spend at least 65 percent of their budgets in the classroom. That could be its last action until it meets again in 20 years.

Continue reading "Ghost of Jeb wins: Vouchers is on the ballot" »

April 24, 2008

Rubio: support tax swap or get used to prop tax hikes

House Speaker Marco Rubio said late Thursday that he is confident the tax swap approved by the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission is a necessary antidote to fixing Florida's broken property tax system. And, while he's had some reservations, his lawyers have convinced him the language does not tie the Legislature's hands.

"I do not believe, as some do, that this will inevitably lead to a services tax,'' Rubio told the Herald."I am also confident that it doesn't have to lead to a limit in sales taxes to one cent.''

Because the state depends on property taxes to approve education, and education needs keep increasing, the pressure to raise property taxes never ends, he said. "I am a staunch believer that we cannot continue to rely on property taxes to fund education because it will inevitably lead to tax increases in the future. In fact, if you look at the reductions in per student funding this year is a result of our unwillingness to raise property taxes.''

On business and trade group opposition: "I think they're simply analyzing it on what an increased sales tax may do to their business models. It's going to make it cheaper to buy and live in a house in Florida. It's going to lower housing costs. That means there won't be continued upward pressure on wages. I don't think they're analyzing that fully that way.''

On Sen. Mike Haridopolos, the lone legislative voice in opposition to the tax swap: "Sen. Haridopolos is just concerned, and rightfully so, of what the climate might be like -- and being forced by the Constitution to raise certain taxes in order to set off the difference. I think that's a legitimate concern. If he's right, and he's able to prove his case and his argument, I don't think they'll get their 60 percent.''

Final tax swap vote narrows but it goes to ballot

Saying the proposal is far from perfect, the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission voted 18-7 to ask voters to replace the required property taxes that pay for schools with new revenues including increased and expanded sales taxes.

After three members -- Susan Story, Brian Yablonski and Mike Hogan -- reversed their position from the first vote three weeks ago, the panel decided to put it on the ballot.

Commisisoner Roberto Martinez said the proposal was far from perfect but added, "If we don't vote this out, I don't think we will just disappoint the people. I think we will fail the people. I think people want to have an opportunity to vote for a property tax proposal and while this is far from perfect, it is the best and wisest proposal we can present to the people.''

John McKay, author of the proposal, said it was time to replace the state's antiquated tax system "with a more stable tax system. The current system is ill-siuted to meet our needs for the next 20 years.''

He said one of the two economists hired by the commission predicted that with the simple vote of the people, it will generate $80 billion of wealth in Florida. "not only a property tax cut it is a tax cut for all Floridaisn and yet you're still holding educaiton harmless.''

Story said her big concern was that this could lead to a services tax, imposed by a legislature with no where else to go to replace the estimated $9 billion for schools. She said that will shut down small businesses. "I would love to have property tax relif but I am very concerned,'' she said. "It's one thing to have relief, but it's another thing not to have a job.''

Tax panel revives debate for vouchers

After killing it by a single vote two weeks ago, the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission agreed to restore a proposal and return to debate on a proposed constitutional amendment to imbed a voucher program for private schools into the state Constitution. The vote was 19-6 today. The debate will be put at the end of the agenda either today or Friday.

Continue reading "Tax panel revives debate for vouchers" »

Sponsor of streamlined sales tax wants it off ballot

One down and eight to go.

The Taxation and Budget Commisss has just struck one of the eight proposed amendments they've proposed for the November ballot. At the request of the sponsor, Commissioner Randy Miller, a vice president for the Florida Retail Federation, the commission will not put on the November ballot a proposal to streamline the sales and use tax by requiring that the state join with other states to reach an agreement to tax items subject to sales tax that are sold over the internet.

Miller said the amendment was no longer needed because Legislative leadres have given him assurances that it's important to them and "they plan on taking it up in the future, but not this session."