Business Property Tax Break Could be on Presidential Primary Ballot

Apr 26, 2011

The following article was published in the Tallahassee Democrat on April 26, 2011:

Business proprety Tax Break Could be on Presidential Primary Ballot

By Aaron Deslatte

The Florida Senate is advancing legislation that calls for a special election coinciding with the 2012 Florida presidential primary to give a dramatic property-tax benefit to commercial properties and snowbirds.

The Senate Ethics and Elections subcommittee passed a bill, SB 1564, along party lines Tuesday that would allow the property tax measure to go on the presidential primary ballot early next year — a move that would mean Republican voters would largely decide whether it passed.

But the measure, backed by House Speaker Dean Cannon and a top priority of the Orlando-based Florida Realtors, needs a three-fourths votes in both chambers to get on the presidential primary ballot – and may not get it.

“It’s on life support. I need 90 votes and don’t have them at the moment,” said House sponsor Chris Dorworth, R-Lake Mary. If he falls short, he said, lawmakers would try to add it to the fall primary ballot.

The amendment would give non-homesteaded property — like commercial buildings and second homes for snowbirds — the same 3-percent cap on assessment increases that full-time Florida homeowners enjoy thanks to the Save Our Homes amendment passed nearly two decades ago.

It also extends to first-time homeowners a super-sized homestead exemption that would phase out over time — similar to one in an amendment lawmakers placed on the 2010 ballot that was blocked by the Florida Supreme Court.

The actual constitutional amendment (SJR 658/HJR 381) has to go before the Senate Budget Committee later this week. It would then have to pass both chambers by three-fourths majorities to get on the presidential primary ballot, likely in January or February.

But that would require Democratic votes – and Senate Democrats questioned Tuesday why the GOP leadership wasn’t willing to wait until the August 2012 state primary, when more Democrats and independents will go to the polls. Because President Barack Obama is unlikely to have a serious Democratic primary challenger, the Florida presidential primary will be all about the GOP candidates.

“Looking at the political landscape of this year, only a part of the electorate that would be coming out,” said Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale. “You will not have a lot of Democratic voters coming out.”

But the sponsor, Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey, said allowing it to go earlier in the year would create more of an “economic stimulus.”

“We have literally tens of thousands of unoccupied homes,” Fasano said. “This is a chance to get people into some of those homes.”

The special election bill passed along party lines.

The amendment is a top priority of the Florida Association of Realtors, which was one of the Top-10 political contributors in the 2010 elections and has already given $275,500 — all but $36,000 of it to Republicans — this year. The Realtors gave Cannon’s political fund $25,000 prior to the start of the session.

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