Voters reject solar, approve property tax breaks for seniors

Arek Sarkissian
arek.sarkissian@naplesnews.com; 850-559-7620

TALLAHASSEE - Florida residents approved two changes to the state’s tax system that will prevent some senior citizens and all disabled first responders from paying property taxes, and rejected a move by utility companies to limit rooftop solar panel expansion.

Ray Ahrens holds a sign endorsing Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton as he waits for voters outside of Oasis Naples Church in Naples, Fla., on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.

The state’s most powerful utility companies failed to convince enough voters to adopt a constitutional amendment proponents claimed would protect the public’s right to put solar panels on their rooftops.

Amendment 1 received 51 percent of the vote and needed 60 percent to pass. There were 4.5 million votes in favor, or 51 percent, and 4.3 million votes against, or 49 percent.

The coalition of environmental and Tea Party groups opposed to the amendment claimed victory.

“We are up 9 percent. No way they can come back,” said Steve Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, a founding member of the Floridians for Solar Choice.

Amendment 3 is a homestead property tax exemption for police officers, firefighters, correctional officers or emergency medical services personnel who were injured while on the job. Amendment 5 will allow more low income senior citizens to keep their homestead exemption even if the value of their home goes beyond a $250,000 threshold. That threshold was established by another amendment approved by voters in 2012.

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There were 7.4 million votes in favor of Amendment 3, or 84 percent, and 1,437,363 votes against, or 16 percent. On Amendment 5, there were 6.8 million votes in favor, or 78 percent, and 1.8 million against, or 22, percent.

Both measures required 60 percent and will take effect Jan. 1.

The Legislature unanimously approved Amendment 3 this year to be placed electoral ballot. It was introduced in the House by Rep. Larry Metz, R-Yalaha, who said the measure would allow other residents to take care of first responders who were injured during duty. The Florida Police Benevolent Association, a labor union that represents represents 6,000 members state and local law enforcement, saw support for Amendment 3 as a sign of gratitude.

"We are very thankful the voters of Florida thought enough to support our men and women who were injured in the line of duty," Florida Police Benevolent Association Director Matt Puckett said. "We take this as a sign that the people of Florida appreciate what law enforcement does every day."

Amendment 5 expanded the existing terms of an amendment that went into effect in 2013. That amendment allowed seniors over age 65 who make less than $20,000 a year and have been living in their home for 25 years to pay no property taxes if the market value of their home does not exceed $250,000. But property values that went up after the amendment went into effect priced seniors out of the exemption, said state Rep. Ray Rodrigues, of Estero, who co-sponsored the amendment.

“This will allow all of those people whose homes went up after 2013 to also be eligible,” Rodrigues said of Amendment 5. “Those were people who were pretty much being priced out of their own homes.”

Amendment 5, which also earned unanimous approval by the Legislature for the ballot, also creates some continuity for ordinances already passed by county and municipal governments. A House legislative analysis shows 34 counties have either passed or contain municipalities that have passed similar measures. A total of 26,591 homeowners qualified for the exemption as of 2015, the analysis shows.