Tentative Victory in Florida: Narrow Escape from a Disaster Twenty Years in the Making?

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Late this week, Florida Circuit Court Judge John Cooper ordered that the amendment set to appear on the November ballot repealing most state-required school property taxes be removed because of the misleading nature of both the title and the summary of the proposal that voters would read. This comes a little over a week after Florida Governor Charlie Crist offered his full support for the proposal.

From a policy perspective, the proposal is extremely poorly targeted and overly expensive. Judge Cooper's opinion, however, highlights some more technical, though extremely important, reasons for why this proposal shouldn't make the ballot. First, the title of the proposal speaks only of school property taxes and replacement funds, but makes no mention of the fact that non-school property taxes would also be limited with a 5% cap on increases in the assessed value of non-homestead properties. Second, and more importantly, nothing in the title or summary of the proposal makes clear that the amendment's mandate that local school funding be held harmless applies only to the 2010-2011 fiscal year. After that time there is no guarantee that schools will not have to suffer through spending cuts as a result of this gutting of Florida's property tax system.

Unfortunately, the decision to keep this deceiving and poorly-conceived proposal off the ballot is not yet final. The state is virtually certain to appeal the ruling very soon.

Most business groups, including the Florida Chamber of Commerce, are pleased that this proposal may not make it to the ballot. The Chamber has, however, used this opportunity to advocate a variety of irresponsible property tax cuts it would like to see enacted without an accompanying sales tax hike. Realtors and Governor Crist, on the other hand, are much less excited by the verdict. Referring to the possibility of the verdict being overturned upon appeal, Crist said that Judge Cooper's verdict"doesn't mean anything. What really matters is what the last ruling is."

Hopefully, though, that last ruling will be the same as the first.

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