On Tuesday, voters will go to the polls and decide on the Republican nominee for President. Most of the talk about this week's election has centered on how the democrats aren't here (Florida's Democratic delegates were stripped when the primary was moved), on whether or not Giuliani will be done after Tuesday (polls show him fighting for third), and who is going to pull out the win in what is now a statistical tie between Mitt Romney and John McCain. Turnout among Democrats and Independents is expected to be very light, since Florida will have no impact at the Democratic National Convention, and Independents have just one issue on the ballot.
However, that one issue may have a tremendous impact on all Floridians, and that issue is Amendment 1, the proposed change to Florida's property tax. Governor Charlie Christ it seems has been on every TV Channel, every Radio Station, and on at least one billboard on every major thoroughfare, urging you to "Vote Yes on 1" in order to preserve the 3% "Save our Homes" cap and make it portable.
However, is Amendment 1 really a good thing? Leaders in Tallahassee seem to think so, as well as people involved in the Real Estate market, many of which are desperately missing those large commission checks from the real estate boom of a couple of years ago. They claim that this will be a good thing for Florida, and that local municipalities need to trim the fat (since there is none in Tallahassee). Fighting Amendment 1 has been local leaders of almost every municipality in Florida, including our leaders here in Jacksonville. Also fighting are the heads of nearly every public safety organization in Florida, including Sherriff John Rutherford. They are claiming that by passing Amendment 1, it will reduce the amount of money available to municipalities to fight crime and fight fires.
So who is right, and who is blowing smoke? Well for one, Governor Crist's statement that Amendment 1 will preserve Save Our Homes is not true. If Amendment 1 does not pass, the 3% cap will remain in place, and nothing will change. However, if it is passed, the 3% cap that currently resets when you move will become portable. This isn't really what was intended with the original Save Our Homes. The point of Save our Homes was to ensure that someone who had lived in a house for 15 years wasn't forced out of their existing home (hence the phrase, "Save our Homes"). It was never designed to "Save our Homes and any home we might buy at some point in the future".
According to the Times-Union, a Duval County homeowner who lives in a $180,000 home will save an average of $223.36 on their annual property tax bill. The big issue with this from city officials and public safety workers is that this means a cut of $60 million from their annual budget this year alone, and more down the line as the portability of the Save our Homes kicks in and compounds the budget cuts.
For a simple quote that really spells out the issue, turn to John Seabree, Vice President of Public Policy for the Florida Association of Realtors who says, "If Jacksonville will be hurt disproportionately by this, that's unfortunate, but the average voter out there can't bear what's going on, whether it's Jacksonville or somewhere else. I do think Jacksonville is a little different market than the other communities. But there's also a little grandstanding going on, and some cities are just going to have to find alternative sources of revenue."
Well Mr. Seabree, where do you think that these "alternative sources of revenue" will come from? Unfortunately, Seabree did not offer to make up the difference in City Revenue from his Real Estate Agents' commission checks. So, that difference is going to have to come from John Q. Taxpayer, most likely in the form of fees to homeowners. Remember those three fees that Mayor John Peyton added this year? Well, hang on if this passed, because more will probably come our way. So, somebody explain to me what the difference is between a $2,000 property tax bill and an $1,700 tax bill coupled with $300 in new fees?
Some say that local governments should just tighten their belts, eliminate waste, and everything will be fine. State officials might point to the John Peyton-Scott Teagle contract fiasco. Well, if Amendment 1 was in place, and John Peyton had been knowingly giving Scott Teagle contracts under the table, do you really think he'd cut Teagle out? Not likely. Instead, police and firefighters would be cut, libraries would be close, and parks would become less maintained.
Finally, there is the issue of city and county home rule. The idea behind home rule to maintain the ability of our local leaders to govern on local issues. Apparently Charlie Crist was absent the day they taught home rule at policy class.. I'm curious what Charlie Crist would think if John McCain was swept into the White House on the campaign promise that he would cap Sales Tax at 4%.
On Tuesday, we urge all registered voters to go out and vote. We'd also like you to put some thought into how you vote on Amendment 1, with slightly less emphasis on your wallet, if possible. There is potential to create serious local problems for our public safety and other government agencies.
For the full ballot text of Amendment 1, click here: http://www.duvalelections.com/GetDocument.aspx?id=1105