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Mayors, commissioners urge 'no' votes on homestead exemption

Mayors and commissioners in Tampa Bay are pressing their local senators to oppose a far-reaching proposal to increase Florida's homestead exemption from $50,000 to $75,000.

"I think we'll be fine, otherwise we wouldn't bring it up," Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said Friday.

The Senate maneuvered the bill in place for a floor vote after bypassing the Appropriations Committee and the Finance & Tax Committee -- even though the proposal has an updated fiscal impact of an estimated $644 million on local governments.

Lobbying by Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn and St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman helped convince Sen. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg, to oppose the bill, a linchpin in budget negotiations between the Senate and House and a top priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes.

"It would be devastating to the Tampa Bay area," Rouson said Friday morning after talking with the two mayors, Pinellas Commissioners Janet Long and Ken Welch and Hillsborough Commissioner Les Miller. Rouson said he believed dire warnings that the higher exemption would result in a sharp decline in public services, including police and fire protection.

UPDATE: The Senate Rules Committee passed the bill on a 9-2 vote Friday over the united opposition of counties, cities, special districts and a statewide fire chiefs association, setting the stage for a Senate floor vote. Two Democrats, Sens. Bill Montford of Tallahassee and Lauren Book of Plantation, joined seven Republicans in voting for the bill. Two other Democrats voted no and Republican Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater was absent. The bill was amended to reduce the potential revenue loss to about 30 small rural counties that are at or near the highest property tax rates they can levy.

Previous: A higher homestead exemption? Good for homeowners, bad for counties

The loss of two members of the Senate Republican Caucus adds some suspense to the issue. The GOP has 23 votes in the Senate, with Sen. Dorothy Hukill absent and former Sen. Frank Artiles having resigned a week ago. As a proposed constitutional amendment, the homestead exemption increase needs 24 votes to get on the 2018 general election ballot. 

Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, supports the higher homestead exemption, which is sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa. Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, is viewed by counties and cities as a long-time ally. Even if all 23 Republicans vote yes on the Senate floor, one Democrat would have to vote yes for the proposal to pass. Rouson reiterated Friday that his position won't change: He's opposed.

State revenue experts have estimated that passage of the bill would result in a loss of $795 million in annual property tax revenue to counties, cities and special districts. The proposal (HJR 7105) cleared the House on Wednesday on an 81-35 vote.

Read the latest Senate staff analysis of the bill here.