June 07, 2013

British firm could get early victory in legal fight with Monroe County if Scott signs property tax bill

A bill on Gov. Rick Scott’s desk could save a British company millions of dollars, while stymieing the Monroe County Property Appraiser’s office and setting a new precedent for calculating property taxes at privatize military housing. 

SB 354, which passed the Legislature with bipartisan support last month, clarifies key provisions in Florida’s tax code, determining who is--and who isn't--eligible for property tax exemptions. 

Those provisions are at the heart of a pending lawsuit between the Monroe County Property Appraiser and Southeast Housing, the subsidiary of UK-based Balfour Beatty Communities. 

Monroe County sent Southeast Housing a bill for more than $11 million in back property taxes last year, after discovering that the company was renting units to civilians instead of exclusively to the military. Southeast took ownership of 890 Key West housing units from the U.S. Navy in 2007, under a deal inked through the U.S. Military Housing Privatization Initiative. 

Southeast had been operating free of property taxes for several years, before Monroe County said the exemption was not appropriate. The property appraiser says Southeast should not get a government exemption since it is operating units for civilians.

Continue reading "British firm could get early victory in legal fight with Monroe County if Scott signs property tax bill" »

April 04, 2013

Miami-Dade backed 'Pet Trust' bill stalls in committee after cat fight with NRA

A bill that would allow local taxpayers to create special taxing districts for the purpose of spaying and neutering animals stalled in a House Committee on Thursday, after the National Rifle Association and others voiced opposition. 

The bill, HB 1127, seeks to use property tax dollars to help reduce the number of animals euthanized each year in Florida, which some say is as high as 800,000. 

Last year, a majority of Miami-Dade voters supported the idea of a small new tax for helping to control the pet population. The bill would have made it easier for voters in other counties to do the same. 

But the clock ran out at the House Committee on Local and Federal Affairs before a vote could take place. No one on the committee requested an extension of the meeting, the customary practice in the Legislature when there’s a time crunch for a vote. Instead, the meeting ended abruptly. 

It was not clear if the bill would pass -- it faced strong opposition from gun rights groups and veterinarians. 

Marion Hammer, a lobbyist for the NRA and the Unified Sportsmen of Florida, said the bill would make Florida a dumping ground for other states to offload unwanted pets. 

“If this bill passes, Florida could become the pet welfare state of the nation,” she said. 

Continue reading "Miami-Dade backed 'Pet Trust' bill stalls in committee after cat fight with NRA" »

October 24, 2012

Little attention for $20 million business tax cut amendment

Tucked near the end of a lengthy ballot that features contentious issues like abortion and the Supreme Court is a little-discussed business tax cut amendment hoping to make it into the state Constitution.

Amendment 10 would provide an additional $25,000 tax exemption for small businesses that have less than $50,000 worth of furniture, computers and other so-called “tangible property.”

The amendment has received little attention in recent months because there is little organized opposition and business groups have focused their attention elsewhere. It would primarily affect smaller businesses and provide about $20 million in savings on a tax that generates $1.7 billion annually.

“I think it’s a really positive tax policy for our small businesses in Florida,” said David Hart, vice president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which advocated this year for the constitutional change.

The amendment, one of 11 that lawmakers have placed on Florida’s lengthy 2012 ballot, could impact up to 40,000 small businesses next year if it gains the necessary 60 percent of the vote. A clause in the language would allow local governments to expand the savings to some larger businesses, or eliminate the tangible property tax altogether.

Read more here


October 14, 2012

Amendment 4 offers tax breaks for some, big revenue drain for local governments

It is the longest of the 11 amendments on Florida’s longest-ever ballot, and its multi-billion dollar impact could mean major tax relief for first-time homebuyers, owners of second homes, small businesses and, especially, large corporations. But it could also mean higher taxes for Florida residents and massive cuts to struggling local governments.

As voters decide whether to vote up or down on Amendment 4, hanging in the balance could be a few hundred dollars in tax cuts for the average new homebuyer, and as much as $600,000 in tax breaks for multimillion-dollar properties like the famed Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach.

Proponents of Amendment 4 argue it will create thousands of new jobs while reinvigorating the state’s troubled housing market and saving homeowners millions of dollars.

Opponents paint a much grimmer picture: Full-time Floridians shouldering the tax burden of snowbirds and corporations, while governments are forced to make bone-deep cuts to social services.

“It will definitely mean cuts to services, unless [local officials] raise the millage rates,” said Jack McCabe, CEO of McCabe Research & Consulting, a real estate firm in Deerfield Beach. McCabe said he is in favor of property tax reform and efforts to revive the housing market, but called Amendment 4 a “patch job” that will shift tax costs from businesses onto long-time homeowners.

Florida voters will ultimately decide, as the amendment — along with 10 others on this year’s lengthy ballot — requires a 60 percent margin to make it into the Constitution.

Read more here


May 03, 2012

'Tax Your Assets Off' campaign launches in support of prop tax amendment

Supporters of a property tax Constitutional Amendment are urging Floridians to vote "Yes" on Amendment 4 this fall, or risk having their "assets taxed off."

Referring to rising property taxes in a down real estate market as "Sudden Posterior Reduction Syndrome" (or getting your assets taxed off), a group called Taxpayers First is pushing for an Amendment that will outlaw property tax increases when home values fall.

In a group of Youtube videos, Taxpayers First calls on voters to support the amendment at the ballot this fall. The mock video shows a talk show host interviewing a doctor about Sudden Posterior Reduction Syndrome.

"I first noticed on a patient around the onset of the recession," says a man identified as Dr. Stanton Robinson. "The value of his home went down, but his property taxes went up."

Continue reading "'Tax Your Assets Off' campaign launches in support of prop tax amendment" »

February 27, 2012

Inside baseball over the Marlins stadium could affect two S. Fla. political races

At the epicenter of this week’s latest political moves in South Florida: Parking garages at the new Miami Marlins stadium, and the taxes that may or may not be due on them.

Earlier this month, Rep. Jose Diaz, R-Miami, filed a bill amendment that would exempt Miami from paying property taxes on the Marlins parking garages. Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami, is backing the stadium amendment, and he might be tied into this politically as well. Read on. 

Diaz’s likely political opponent in a newly drawn district, Rep. Ana Rivas Logan, R-Miami, has filed an amendment that would delete the stadium language from the bill.

Logan and Diaz are headed for what could be a political crash course to represent the newly-drawn district that includes both Republicans’ turf. Logan said her move to scratch-out Diaz’s amendment was not politically motivated. The bill heads to the floor Tuesday for a hearing.

Continue reading "Inside baseball over the Marlins stadium could affect two S. Fla. political races" »

February 22, 2012

Tax cut for Marlins stadium passes, despite constitutional problems

Ignoring warning signs by their own staff that a tax cut for the Miami Marlins stadium parking garage is probably unconstitutional, the House Committee on Economic Affairs passed the proposal, unanimously and without debate.

staff analysis landed yesterday that cast serious doubt on the constitutionality of the plan –- which would cover up for a poorly inked deal with the Marlins that left the city of Miami on the hook for $1.2 million in property taxes.

Rather than changing the language to address the constitutional problems, the bill sponsor, Rep. Matthew Caldwell, R-Lehigh Acres, filed an amendment making the proposal retroactive to the 2012 tax bill, in effect doubling down on the constitutionally-questionable measure.

The Marlins parking garage section of the bill, filed by Rep. Jose Diaz, R-Miami on behalf of Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami, would exempt the city of Miami from paying property taxes.

It’s the Legislature’s latest move that critics say bucks the state’s Constitution.

Continue reading "Tax cut for Marlins stadium passes, despite constitutional problems" »

February 21, 2012

Legislature lifeline for Miami stadium parking garage hits Constitutional wall

The plan by state lawmakers to cover up for their city of Miami counterparts after a $1.2 million “oopsie”  on a botched parking garage contract with the Miami Marlins just hit a major Constitutional wall.

 A new House staff analysis has found that a Legislature lifeline for Miami, filed by Rep. Jose Diaz, R-Miami, and backed by Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, R-Miami, likely runs afoul of the state’s constitution.

 In November, the city of Miami was shocked to find out  that it could be liable for property taxes on parking garages that it built to support the new Miami Marlins stadium.

Miami-Dade County Property Appraiser Pedro Garcia told the city that it may have to pay property taxes on the 5,700-space parking garage it leases to the Marlins. Garcia questioned whether the parking garages constitute a public purpose, a necessary requirement for a government-owned building to receive a property tax break.

Continue reading "Legislature lifeline for Miami stadium parking garage hits Constitutional wall" »

February 12, 2012

State legislators opt for tax cuts the easy way; Locals left with the bill

The Florida Legislature is eyeing even more tax cuts this year, celebrating its free-market ethos by slashing business taxes and allowing consumers to “keep more of their own money.”

But as lawmakers take credit for handing out tax cuts to businesses and homeowners, most are not coupling the revenue reductions with equal-sized cuts in spending, leaving local governments to sort out how to balance their budgets.

“We’re trying to take credit for cutting taxes when we’re, in essence, really just telling somebody else ‘You need to cut,’” Rep. Fred Costello, R-Ormond Beach, warned fellow lawmakers during a committee meeting where lawmakers approved more than $600 million in cuts to local governments.

In total, the Legislature has advanced proposals for several billion dollars in new unfunded tax cuts that, if passed, will come out of the coffers of cities and counties across the state. Local governments, which have hired lobbyists to fight back against some of the cuts, say state lawmakers are leaving them with a bleak choice: Either cut already-pared-back services and salaries to offset billions of dollars in reduced revenue, or raise property tax rates to cover some of the shortfall.

Read the rest of the story here.


October 03, 2011

Legislature OKs audit of city of Hollywood

TALLAHASSEE -- The Legislature on Monday approved a request by Sen. Eleanor Sobel to step in and audit the city of Hollywood's shaky finances. Sobel appeared at a meeting of the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee in the Capitol to ask for the audit, citing the city's declaration of a state of "financial urgency," a recent 11 percent property tax increase, lucrative pension and health benefits for city employees and overly optimistic revenue projections.

Sobel questioned the work of Munilytics, an Illinois-based financial consulting firm hired by the city. She also questioned the city's administrative set up, which she said separates the city's budget and finance departments, resulting in accountability problems. 

"An independent, unbiased additional set of eyes will promote greater responsibility, accountability and accuracy," Sobel,a former Hollywood city commissioner, told committee members. "My ultimate goal is to restore faith in our local government." 

Sobel's request for an audit was endorsed by a spokesman for the city's Police Benevolent Association chapter. The auditing panel is chaired by Sen. Jim Norman, a Tampa Republican.

-- Steve Bousquet