Seven tax-related ballot proposals ranging in quality from "highly regressive and irresponsible" to "completely inconsequential" are now set to be on the November ballot in Florida. Proposed by a "reform" commission that meets only once every two decades, the small scale of most of the proposals is surprising. Preferential property tax treatment for marinas, farm land and housing livestock, as well as for owners who improve their property with windstorm protection or renewable energy products, are among the proposals for which Florida voters have apparently had to wait twenty years.
But there is one very serious change to the state tax structure that has left progressives wishing the Commission would have stuck to making only minor changes. Well aware of the existing $3.4 billion budget shortfall facing Florida, the Commission has nonetheless proposed that school property taxes be abolished at an annual cost of $9 billion. In order to meet the requirement established by the Commission that school funding not decline as a result of this change, it was recommended that the legislature raise the sales tax rate by one percent, eliminate numerous sales tax exemptions (on both goods and services), and cut spending. In addition to these ideas, the Commission helpfully suggested that the legislature might try to find "other revenues".
A 1% sales tax hike is expected to raise less than half of the revenue needed to replace school property taxes, so expansions of the sales tax base appear imminent if the proposal gains approval in November. Expanding the sales tax base is good policy, assuming that it is done carefully, but doing so would ideally be coupled with much better targeted tax cuts. An across-the-board property tax reduction of the kind proposed here will provide huge benefits to those wealthier individuals with the most valuable homes.
And as if all of this wasn't bad enough, the Commission has also proposed tightening the caps on increases in a home's assessed value (criticized in the Digest just a few weeks ago) for homes not occupied by the owner.