A proposal to change the state’s Save Our Homes property-tax cap cleared its first legislative committee on Wednesday, despite concerns that it might force counties to cut services or shift the tax burden.
The Senate Community Affairs Committee voted 8-1 to approve a proposed constitutional amendment (SJR 122) that would provide bigger savings to homeowners. Currently, Save Our Homes places a 3 percent cap on annual increases in taxable values of homesteaded property. The proposal would lower that to 2 percent.
The Republican-controlled committee also voted 6-3 along party lines to approve an accompanying bill (SB 120) that would carry out the proposed constitutional amendment if it is approved by voters. The proposed amendment would go on the 2024 ballot.
Senators pointed to a rough estimate that the change could cut local-government revenues statewide by about $150 million a year, but a detailed projection has not been issued.
Sen. Bryan Avila, a Miami Springs Republican who is sponsoring the proposal, said efforts will be made to protect small rural counties that have relatively small tax bases and are at maximum tax rates. But he added that the change would require counties to “reassess” spending.
“There will be an impact,” Avila said. “But the other side of this is that the Florida Legislature has continuously made decisions in order to prioritize our residents and make sure that the cost of living is low.”
Voters approved the Save Our Homes measure in 1992. It allows taxable values to increase up to 3 percent a year or the change in the Consumer Price Index, whichever is lower.
While the Senate committee backed the changes Wednesday, concerns were raised that reductions in local revenues could require cuts in services or lead to more reliance on taxes from non-homesteaded properties.
Bob McKee, a Florida Association of Counties lobbyist, said the proposal would shift the tax burden further away from homesteaded properties.
“It used to be the principle of property tax (was) that I could walk out my front door and I can look across the street and I could say to myself, ‘If I have to pay the tax, at least the person across the street has to bear the same burden,’” McKee said. “That is no longer the case in Florida. And this bill moves further and further away from that. This bill is a tax shift because it shifts from those who receive the services to those who do not without regard to the millage rate.”
With housing costs increasing, Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-Hollywood, said lawmakers need to address other issues, such as spiraling insurance costs.
But Pizzo said he expects the proposal would pass if it goes on the ballot. It would require approval from at least 60 percent of voters.
“If we put on the ballot that we're going to lower the cap on property taxes from 3 (percent) to 2 percent, you're probably going to get a 72 percent 'yes' vote on the ballot because I don’t think people contemplate what they’re giving up," Pizzo said.
In voting against both measures, Sen. Lori Berman, D-Boca Raton, said she was “shocked” a staff analysis lacked projections of the potential lost revenue.
“I really think we need to understand and know what the true fiscal (amount) is going to be because we've heard from the counties that they are going to be hurting if we do something like this,” Berman said.
A staff analysis said state economists determined the change would have an “indeterminate positive fiscal impact” on homesteaded property owners and “an indeterminate negative fiscal impact on local governments as their ability to raise assessments on homestead property will be reduced.”
The proposal has the backing of Miami-Dade County, where Avila said the impact could be $7 million in lost revenue. The county has a budget topping $11 billion.
The proposal is filed for consideration during the legislative session that will start March 7. Identical measures (HJR 469 and HB 471) have been filed in the House.