Today's excellent Daytona News-Journal editorial on the likely user fee explosion that would result from passing the Florida legislature's January property tax ballot measure includes an interesting rationalization from Florida House Speaker Marco Rubio. Here's Rubio explaining why it would be OK if local governments made up for unaffordable property tax cuts by hiking a variety of user fees:
The West Miami Republican told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel newspaper that such fees are fair. "Fees are clear; they're not hidden," he said. "If you don't like that city and county officials are raising them, you can vote them out of office on Election Day."
But exactly the same thing can be said of local property taxes. And in fact, the transparency and accountability of property taxes is what makes so many advocates of local control very protective about this revenue source.
This isn't to say, of course, that Florida's property taxes are currently all that transparent--they're not. They're unfair and unpredictable, imposing unjustifiable tax penalties on first-time homebuyers and rewarding people for nothing more exceptional than staying in the same home for a long time. But these flaws can be remedied quite easily if lawmakers are willing to renounce the "Save Our Homes" tax break that makes it all go wrong.
Moreover, user fees are actually fairly sneaky, in the same way that the sales tax is sneaky: it nickel-and-dimes you in a way that makes it hard to gauge the overall annual impact on your pocket book. In other words, you can make a pretty good case that user fees are actually less transparent than the property taxes Rubio wants to get rid of.