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Senate votes to put $75K homestead exemption on 2018 ballot

Six Democrats joined 22 Republicans as the Florida Senate voted Monday to put on next year’s ballot a proposal to increase the state homestead property tax exemption to $75,000.

The Republican-backed measure, timed for the next election when the governorship is up for grabs, is part of a complex political puzzle in private, late-session talks between the House and Senate on a new budget. The Senate vote was 28-10, with one seat vacant and one senator absent.

The only Republican who voted no was Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater, who did not debate the bill.

Supporters said voters deserve the chance to give themselves lower property taxes, including seniors and people whose home values still have not recovered from the Great Recession of 2008-2009.

"Let’s give our voters an opportunity to do what they know is right," said Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby.

Opponents said the higher exemption would force cities and counties to cut back needed services, lay off workers, and raise taxes on snowbirds, small businesses and renters, including low-income people.

"It’s absolutely unfair and irresponsible for us to pass a potential tax cut without telling people what the cuts are going to be," said Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth.

With so much revenue at stake, cities and counties are expected to mount a aggressive campaign to rally public opposition against the idea, and every candidate for state office in 2018 will be under enormous pressure to take sides on the question.

The Florida Association of Counties estimates that the lost property tax revenue to counties, cities and special taxing districts would be $587.5 million in 2019.