April 23, 2008

House passes DOA tax cap and 1.35 % to Senate

     With a wink and nod, the House approved two proposed constitutional amendments Wednesday to ask voters to drastically cut taxes in Florida knowing that they won’t get the necessary approval this session from a reluctant Senate that wants to wait until the billions of tax cuts made last year first take effect.

    The House voted 79-38 along party lines and sent to the Senate a proposal to cap all property taxes at 1.35 percent and another to cap all government revenue with a formula that ties growth to population and inflation.

     Democratic leaders blasted the moves as sound-bite politics. They complained that House Republicans made no attempt to protect education funding from billions in cuts or quantify the lost government services that will result.

    Almost as recognition to its dead-on-arrival fate in the Senate, the House approved the tax revenue cap without debate. The Taxation and Budget Reform Commission rejected a similar cap last week, when it couldn’t muster the votes to get the measure through the 25-member panel.

     The House debated at length, however, the plan to put a flat 1.35 percent cap on all property taxes, the exact language of a similar citizen petition that supporters hope to put on the 2010 ballot. House Speaker Marco Rubio said his priority this session would be to pass the 1.35 percent idea through the House but acknowledge it may not go beyond that.

     He and other supporters say change isneeded because of a “property tax” crisis but none of them ever acknowledged that soaring property values, which benefit property owners' net worth statements was the first culprit.

    "I didn't know providing property tax relief was a policial ploy,'' said Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, the House sponsor. "I thought it was doing our job...And whether we like it or not members this is going to get on the ballot – in 2010.''


April 21, 2008

ATR-ian Grover Norquist: Tax swap is bad

In consultation with his buddy and Melbourne Republican Sen. Mike Haridopolos, Americans For Tax Relief's Grover Norquist sent out this indictment on the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission's tax-swap plan: Download atr_letter.pdf

Did Norquist even know about the tax swap before Haridopolos called him to solicit the letter? Haridopolos said he called him to tell him: "Sure I did,'' Hardidopolos said, at what has become a daily press availability to press his case against the TBRC. He said Norquist is "the most foremost person on tax issues.''

April 15, 2008

House passes tax cap and 1.35% -- but Brian Pitts calls it

With easy approval, the House Policy and Budget Council made up for where the TBRC fell down and approved a constitutional amendment to create a Colorado-style revenue cap on all Florida governments.

The measure, said sponsor Rep. Frank Attkisson, is needed because the tax cap we have in place is "really useless and meaningless'' and needs adjustment. Unlike Colorado's TABOR, the Florida proposal excludes universities, community colleges and the state-run insurer, Citizen's Property Insurance.

But does it have a chance?

Renown capital observer and "Justice 2 Jesus" advocate, Brian Pitts, summed it up this way before the committee: "In the Senate, this thing ain't going anywhere -- if you know what I mean.''

Before that vote, the House also gave approved to Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera's proposal to put a 1.35 percent cap on property taxes on the November ballot. The idea is to cap taxable values at 13.5 mills, or 1.35 percent and, Lopez-Cantera said, bring property tax revenues back to pre-2006 levels.

But Democrats blasted the idea, warning it could cripple government services and "absolutely crush,'' education."This is a lovely bumper sticker, but I don't think it has much flesh,'' said Rep. Shelley Vana, a West Palm Beach Democrat.

Lopez-Cantera countered: "This isn't a bumper sticker. It is simple though.''

"The citizen petition is going to be on the ballot in 2010,'' he said. "It's incumbent on us to give them the opportunity to vote for this two years earlier.''

The House Majority Office quickly touted the measure as a $5.9 billion potential tax savings if lawmakers put it on the ballot and voters were to approve it. They said the average savings on a $350,000 house would be $4,725 on the 2009-2010 property tax bill. In fact, the tax on a $350,000 house under their plan would be $4,725 and the average savings would be more like $1,512.

April 14, 2008

Haridopolos makes pitch to TBRC

Sen. Mike Haridopolis has sent three letters to the TBRC. He's urged them to hold more hearings on the proposal to swap property taxes that pay for schools for higher sales tax increases. He's told them he doesn't like their numbers and he's asked for them to take the issue to up again.

But Taxation and Budget Reform Commission Chairman Allan Bense has responded that the issue has received more than enough hearings and Haridopolos is barking up the wrong tree. Then, at 4:15 p.m. on Monday, the Melbourne Republican was given three minutes to make a speech to the 25-member panel. "The numbers simply don't add up,'' he told them. "We are still $3.995 billion short of making that number work.''

Haridopolis, a non-voting member of the panel who was absent for much of the meeting, told them the Senate will hold hearings on the issue on Friday, when the Legislature is supposed to be taking a break for the Passover holiday. "The last thing we want is a tax increase,'' Haridopolos told the commission. The gave him no response.

Tax panel scraps tax cap and its replacement

A powerful citizens panel couldn’t muster the votes Monday for a constitutional amendment to cap all government revenue and is falling short on a plan to ask voters to make it harder for all state and local governments to raise taxes and fees.


The Taxation and Budget Reform Commission voted 13 to 10 for the tax cap but it fell short of the 17 votes needed to put it before voters in November. Now, supporters say they will ask the legislature to revive the idea and put a proposal on the ballot.

The tax panel then scrambled to find support for a fallback proposal to require a two-thirds vote of all local governments to raise taxes and fees. But when they realized the amendment by Commissioner Susan Story would impact their previous amendment -- to swap property taxes for schools with sales tax increases -- the amendment ran into trouble. The final vote on Story's amendment was 13-10, also short of the 17 needed to bring it to the ballot.

"I am very disappointed that we did not get revenue cap,'' said Mike Hogan, Duval County tax collector and sponsor of the tax cap. "The good thing about this entire process is everyone has participated.'' 

Hogan says tax cap is dead; he's switching vote on tax swap

The official vote hasn't happened, but the sponsor of the tax cap says it's all but dead after an earlier amendment smoked out the votes on the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission.

Mike Hogan, the Duval County tax collector and sponsor of the amendment, said the 13-10 vote in support of a rewrite of his tax plan will fall short of the 17 needed to bring it to the ballot. A replacement amendment, by Commissioner Susan Story, to make it harder for all state and local governments to raise taxes and fees, is also likely to fail when the commission meets after its lunch break this afternoon.

The absence of a tax cap will now affect Hogan's vote on the tax swap proposal by Commissioners John McKay and Pat Levesque, he said. The summary of that constitutional amendment says it is to replace school property taxes with a one-cent increase in the sales tax and other revenues says. When the measure was debated before the full commission, Hogan said, "the debate was different'' and he had the impression it could be more than a penny. Now, he says, "it's a backdoor services tax...a bait and switch" and he will not vote to put it on the ballot when the panel decides on April 24 to approve the final language.

"There's no struggle on my part,'' he said. "I will change my vote.''

Sink appears before tax panel with warning about "very serious implications"

Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink made a rare appearance before the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission Monday with a serious warning: you approve the tax cap, known as CP45, the taxpayer cost of bonding will soar.

"This proposal before you today has very serious long-term implications in terms of bonding,'' she said. She noted how the Fitch rating agency last week downgraded the bonds for Florida's Everglades funding because of the downturn in documentary stamp revenues. The change will cost the state $100 million in increased interest costs on $12 billion in bonds, Sink said.

Something similar will happen if the commission approves and voters support a constitutional amendment that caps all tax revenues based on a formula that includes population growth, inflation and one percentage point, she said.

"Any provision that we place that limits our ability and limits our flexibility, such as this proposal in front of you, will cause the credit markets to seriously consider downgrading becasue our flexibillity will be serverely limited,'' she said.

Over the next 10 years, "if the past is any indication, our local governments will be scheduled to issue $200 billion in bonding which would result in, conservatively estimated, $2 billion in additional cost to taxpayers,'' she said.

The tax commission has just started to take up a series of amendments to the tax cap plan proposed by Commissioner Mike Hogan and will vote on the measure today, it's last scheduled meeting to choose which amendments get placed on the ballot.

As TBRC winds down, Rouson in position of rare power

On Tuesday, Darryl Rouson will become one of Florida's most politically powerful people. Read story here.

The St. Petersburg lawyer, who has never held public office, is expected to be elected to the Legislature in a write-in election Tuesday as he simultaneously holds a post as one of the 25 members of the powerful Taxation and Budget Reform Commission -- even though the state Constitution bans the appointment of sitting lawmakers to that panel.

Both the Legislature and the commission have the power to put constitutional amendments directly before voters. The tax commission, which meets once every 20 years, has voted to put six amendments on the ballot, including controversial plans to swap some property taxes with sales taxes and eliminate
the ban on state money going to religious institutions -- which education groups say will enable state-paid vouchers to go to private schools.

Rouson, 52, supported both of the hot-button issues and has been lobbied hard to reconsider his vote in support of the voucher plan. He will vote on six other proposed amendments at the commission's meeting on Monday and, in his new role as lawmaker, could also vote on two proposed amendments that come before the House of Representatives.

"He could be a powerful guy,'' said Allan Bense, chairman of the commission. But the panel will have no say over whether Rouson should stay or leave. "That's up to the governor,'' Bense said.


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April 09, 2008

Senate committee follows House and gives ok to prop tax cap of 1.35 percent

Are legislators setting the stage for a trade with the House speaker? That's a logical conclusion following the approval Wednesday of the House Government Efficiency and Accountability Committee and the Senate Community Affairs committee of a proposed constitutional amendment to cap annual increases in property tax amendments at 1.35 percent.

By moving the measures through the committees, House Speaker Marco Rubio keeps alive his promise to pursue additional property tax cuts this year. But the chances of the measures going any further seems slim this year, a concession even Rubio made after addressing a crowd of mostly-Miami homeowners last month who travelled to Tallahassee demanding more property tax relief.

"We'll see what happens,'' said Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, a Miami Republican who is sponsoring the House measure to mirror a citizen petition drive that has been pushed by Rubio. Organizers say they have collected more than 200,000 of the 611,000 signatures needed to place it on the 2010 ballot. Only 75,000 of those have been verified by the secretary of state. The Senate version was introduced by Sen. Mike Haridopolos, the Republican chiarman of the Senate Finance and Tax Committee, when the Senate sponsor, Mike Bennett of Bradenson couldn't be there.

Legislators need two-thirds vote to bring the proposal to the November ballot but Democrats aren't buying it. The Senate committee approved it on a 7-3 partisan vote. "We need to wait and see what impact the tax cuts we've already approved have,'' said Senate Democratic Leader Steve Geller of Cooper City.

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Tax cap gets House committee nod; but does it have legs?

A tax cap styled after the proposal that is strugging to get through the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission won a 12-4 vote of the House Efficiency and Government Accountability Committee Wednesday, despite signs that it is still not even on the agenda in the Senate.

Sponsor Frank Attkisson, a Kissimmee Republican, said he has heard rumblings that a similar proposed constitutional amendment is going to get a hearing in the Senate, where Sen. Mike Haridopolos would push it before his Finance and Tax Committee.

The TABOR-styled plan has all the trappings of the original tax cap proposed by Mike Hogan, the Duval County Tax Collector and member of the TBRC. It doesn't have any of the exemptions Hogan has agreed to include in order to reduce the impact on special taxing districts, children's services councils, schools and hospital districts and local government bond obligations. After postponing a vote for two consecutive meetings, the tax commission decides next Monday whether to reject or approve Hogan's proposal.

Attkisson called his bill a "leveler" because it would have forced local governments to roll back their property tax rates during the real estate boom years of 2004-2007 if it had been in effect. The rollback amounts statewide would have ranged from $1.4 billion in 2004 to $8.9 billion in 2007.

"You've got a choice to make to continue the yo-you effects of state and local budgeting,'' he said. "But if you think there is a better way to manage government this is the best thing that you can do.''