May 02, 2007

Florida: Ding Dong, the Witch is... Going on Vacation

Reuters reports that Florida lawmakers have given in to the inevitable and thrown in the towel on their efforts to craft a big fat property tax cut before the end of the regular legislative session.

The good news is that this was exactly the right thing to do. Various editorial boards have pointed out that a poorly constructed tax reform thrown together at the last minute could be worse than no tax reform at all. The St. Petersburg Times explains quite well what a good property tax fix should do:
Floridians need property tax relief, but they need it done right. That means it has to be equitable, fair and reasonable. It should be targeted toward the taxpayers who need it most: businesses, nonhomesteaded property owners and recent home buyers. It should spread the tax burden, not merely shift it from one group of taxpayers - homeowners - to another - consumers who may not even own property. And it should not force local governments to make painful cuts in programs and services that residents expect in safe, vibrant communities.
Which makes it unfortunate that the plans being debated by the House and Senate this past week pretty much don't achieve any of these goals.

And which leads us to the bad news: the legislature will be back for a special session in June, and all indications are that they'll be discussing the same basic plans they've been fighting over for the last couple of weeks. The sense you get from reading lawmakers' quotes this week is that they've got broad agreement on most things, but simply don't have time to iron out all the details before the session is scheduled to adjourn at the end of the week. Here's House Speaker Marco Rubio:
“The good news is I believe we have made tremendous conceptual progress in our conversations with our colleagues the senate. We can feel confident that property tax relief and reform is going to happen for Floridians and God willing, it’s going to happen this year,” he said.“The bad news is, and it’s really not all that bad, is that in order to put this into practice 72 hours simply is not enough time."
In other words, the solution lawmakers come up with next month is going to be a cross between the House approach (an unaffordable, unfair property tax-for-sales tax swap) and the Senate approach, which is merely unaffordable. So to paraphrase Rubio, the good news isn't all that good, and the bad news remains pretty bad.


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