By Christopher L. Holley
Florida Association of Counties
Tallahassee politicians are at it again.
This time, they're calling it Amendment 4. In November, voters will decide the fate of this Trojan Horse measure — the latest complex and confusing brand of Tallahassee "tax reform" that signals little relief for Florida's full-time homeowners but plenty of carve-outs for out-of-state investors and well-connected insiders at the expense of the Sunshine State's year-round residents.
While the problems with Amendment 4 are many, two emerge as the most deeply troubling.
First, if adopted, Amendment 4 would extend the homestead exemption to investment properties and second (or third) homes — a move that is likely to shift a greater share of the property tax bill to Florida's full-time residents. State lawmakers may call Amendment 4 tax reform but that just means somebody else benefits and the rest of us pay for it. Amendment 4 would toss hefty tax breaks toward well-heeled out-of-state snowbirds at the expense of Florida's year-round Florida residents, who would inevitably inherit a larger share of the tax burden.
Over four years, the cost to Florida's local communities could approach $2 billion in order to subsidize these newly minted special tax breaks for snowbirds. At a time when too many Florida families are struggling to make ends meet, that's just not right.
Second, we can't trust Tallahassee politicians to control budget decisions for our local communities. It is an essential truth of our democratic experience that government closest to the people tends to govern best. Local government is also the most visible, accessible and accountable to the people and it makes little sense to outsource local budget decisions to Tallahassee (or Washington). After all, local decision-making should be the job of local decision-makers: Florida's towns, taxpayers and community leaders, not politicians seated in a distant capitol. Why should we force Jacksonville into the same sledgehammer solution as West Palm Beach, Ft. Lauderdale or Naples? Any why should politicians from the panhandle micromanage the budgets of communities in Southwest Florida, or vice versa? There is no good reason for that type of heavy-handed, Tallahassee-knows-best approach when Florida's communities are so unique and different.
Tallahassee politicians should not be dictating a one-size-fits-all approach to how local communities manage their budgets. More importantly, state lawmakers should focus their energies on more pressing concerns like addressing troublingly high unemployment, public education and state government spending.
Too often, elected officials on both sides of the aisle boast of "belt-tightening" while foisting new backdoor tax mandates onto local communities. This typically occurs when state lawmakers find it difficult to trim their own budgets and are tempted to micromanage the budgets of Florida's local communities and label it a political victory. It's a shallow shell game designed to score political points at the expense of local communities without taking the tough medicine of truly addressing the state budget.
Too much Tallahassee-style "reform" driven by poll-tested political rhetoric rather than sensible policymaking has left Florida's property tax code convoluted and unbalanced. Unfortunately, the Amendment 4 would intensify these property tax problems, threaten the effectiveness of local services and shift a heavier share of the tax burden onto Florida's year-round residents in order to bail out investment properties, well-positioned businesses and snow birds.
Florida is a big and diverse state. The right policy for Pensacola may not be right for Miami, and vice-versa. That's why Florida voters have routinely urged lawmakers to respect the distinctly American principle of "governing close to home" where the voters are best positioned to hold their officials accountable.
Voters should say "NO" to tax breaks for out-of-state residents paid for by Florida's full-time homeowners—voters should say "NO" to Amendment 4.