THE NEWS SERVICE OF FLORIDA: McCollum — Freeze Millage Rates

Jun 17, 2010

The following article was published by The News Service of Florida on June 17, 2010:


SARASOTA, Fla. June 17, 2010…Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill McCollum said Thursday he wants a two year freeze on local government property tax rates, saying homeowners and businesses can’t afford tax hikes in a weak economy and that cities and counties need to cut spending.

McCollum’s plan would also include a longer-term cap that would limit how much local governments could increase spending over time.

McCollum plans to unveil the plan Friday. But during a speech to Florida newspaper editors, the attorney general said that with the sharp decrease in property values sparked by the recession, local governments are responding with higher millage rates.

Taxpayers simply can’t keep up, McCollum said.

“Spending is going to have to be reduced,” McCollum said.

Reminded that a central Florida sheriff recently suggested a millage rate increase to pay for basic crime fighting needs, McCollum acknowledged that local governments likely wouldn’t like his approach. McCollum, though, told opponents his proposal would have a time limit – only lasting a couple years – but would involve tough choices about government spending.

McCollum also said he feared that the state’s expected budget shortfall next year, currently projected at about $6 billion, could go higher because of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. He said he wasn’t prepared to say how his administration would propose to close that gap – but pledged that it wouldn’t be by raising taxes.

“We’re not going to raise taxes, we’re not going to raise fees,” McCollum said during a short, but wide ranging question and answer session with reporters and editors at the Florida Press Association and Florida Society of News Editors annual convention in Sarasota.

McCollum didn’t elaborate much on his proposed millage cap, but did say it would be different from the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, or TABOR, law approved by Colorado voters that limited annual tax revenue increases to the rate of inflation plus population growth.

Republicans in Tallahassee have pushed local revenue caps and limits in the past. Most of these standards have been opposed by local government officials, who accuse state government of scrimping on services and shifting spending needs to the locals – then complaining when cities and counties try to raise taxes.

Cragin Mosteller, a spokeswoman for the Florida Association of Counties, said that without seeing the details of the proposal, it was hard to gauge its impact.

“However, it is important to note that counties have already reduced (spending) by $1.8 billion over the last three years – making tough choices and reducing critical services has been ongoing,” she said.

“This year counties are facing additional difficult reductions due to the economy and when you add the complicating impacts that the oil spill will have on property values it already adds up to tough choices and the reductions of critical services,” she added. “One only has to read any local paper right now as sheriffs turn in dramatically reduced budgets and raise concerns on how to maintain public safety under current economic conditions.”

Kyra Jennings, a spokeswoman for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Alex Sink, also said the candidate couldn’t comment until the specific plan was released.

“But in general she’s for making sure local governments’ hands aren’t tied, especially in these tight times, and that they have flexibility,” Jennings said.