State Of Emergency Continued
Floridians are checking their property tax bills and may be fighting the urge to leave. Some of their neighbors already have. Those still here are demanding tax relief. Now state lawmakers are jumping into the ring to help. But local leaders are crying foul say the state's taking a jab at them.
The general legislative session starts in less than a week and for this issue, the gloves are coming off. Lawmakers are committed to cutting property taxes. Some ideas floating around out there: allow people to keep a cap on their taxes when they move, roll back property tax rates, eliminate property taxes and replace the lost money with a higher sales tax, and limit spending by local governments.
But in that last scenario county budgets could take a body blow. Some local leaders are afraid it might be a political sucker punch with the price being unfixed potholes or less police on the streets.
State leaders say they're prepared to do whatever it takes.
"Doing something radical," says State Representative Dennis Baxley (R) Ocala. "Some folks are even in favor of just abolishing property tax and repositioning that income onto other more equitable tax forms."
Others say abolishing the tax may be too bold. But state leaders are vowing at least to cut property taxes by nearly six billion dollars. They may also eliminate taxes on homesteaded property.
But that money goes to the counties, state leaders want to know just what each county does with that revenue.
To better understand the problem a delegation of lawmakers set off on a statewide tour. They're examining each county's system of taxing.
Just last week the delegation stopped here in North Central Florida.
"We're trying to send the message to the counties too, if you can't grow within your means, you can't take it out of people's pockets anymore, there's none left," says State Senator Nancy Argenziano (R) Crystal River.
But local governments say they're being cornered. They say anything that cuts money coming in will make it harder to pay for services residents expect. Local leaders say counties know what's best and the state should not interfere.
"It always ends up to the detriment of the counties," says Marion County Commissioner Jim Payton "Do the people want to cut back on fire services? No!"
In Marion County the millage rate has actually been knocked down. But exponential increases in home appraisals has driven property taxes way up. Payton says that increased the county's revenue about thirty percent.
Payton says that money is needed to account for growth, "There is no money sitting around."
But soon, local governments may have to do some fancy footwork to make less money stretch further.
"We are going to have to give the taxpayers some relief in that area, says State Senator Steve Oelrich (R) Cross Creek. "There's no doubt about it."
To make up some of the lost revenue lawmakers are considering a two point five percent state sales tax increase. For the person who spends one hundred dollars a week on groceries, that's an extra eighty dollars a year
Look for this state of emergency to be a permanent discussion fixture on both the house and senate floor this session.
By Anne Imanuel, WCJB TV 20 News
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