Ballot initiative: Property tax exemption for teachers, police officers and others, but at what cost?

Florida voters could offer significant property tax relief to Florida teachers, firefighters, active-duty members of the U.S. military and other specified professions amid a relatively hostile housing market.

But a well-intentioned tax exemption can create other complications, such as a loss of local government tax revenue, a tax watchdog group says. What may appear to be a simple ballot initiative can mean many layers, leaving Floridians on the fence about whether or not to support the measure.

Voters will go to the polls Nov. 8 on Constitutional Amendment No. 3 — the property tax exemption — though early and mail-in ballots have already begun.

Amendment 3 is the result of a joint House resolution passed by the Florida Legislature in 2022. To win, the measure would have to be approved by at least 60 percent of voters.

The amendment states:

“A draft amendment to the state constitution that would authorize the legislature by general law to grant an additional homestead tax exemption for extracurricular levies up to $50,000 of the assessed value of homestead property owned by classroom teachers, police officers, correctional officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, paramedics , child welfare service professionals, active duty members of the United States Armed Forces, and members of the Florida National Guard. This change takes effect on January 1, 2023.”

Florida homeowners already have a homestead exemption of up to $25,000, according to a legislative staff analysis. And there’s another exemption, also up to $25,000, which the analysis says “applies to property values ​​between $50,000 and $75,000.”

The League of Women Voters of Florida opposes the measure because it believes the Florida Constitution is not the place to determine tax policies.

“This proposal may have merit, but the League has long held the position that ‘no source of taxation or revenue should be specified, limited, exempted or prohibited in the constitution,'” according to the organization’s website.

The website also warns that the approval of the amendment could lead to a loss of revenue for local governments.

The staff analysis that put Amendment 3 on the ballot says that starting in fiscal year 2023-24, the tax exemption would “reduce local property tax revenue by $85.9 million for all levies except school district levies.”

The Florida Education Association — the statewide teachers union whose clientele consists of Florida educators — does not take a position on Amendment 3 one way or the other.

Described as a nonpartisan, nonprofit taxpayer research institute and government watchdog, Florida TaxWatch reiterates the group’s support for the amendment, saying “the benefits of Amendment 3 far outweigh the negative consequences of shifting taxes.”

According to TaxWatch’s 2022 voter guide: “The tax change is not a tax cut, and while it will benefit that segment of the ‘Specified Critical Public Services Workforce’ who are lucky enough to own their own homes, they will bear the brunt of the additional taxes. everyone else, with higher taxes for lower-income homeowners and small business owners, and increased rent for renters (including those members of the “Specified Critical Public Services Workforce” who rent their homes).

However, TaxWatch also notes that property tax revenue helps fund government services, and if revenue declines, “cities, counties, and special districts may struggle to maintain important government services such as law enforcement, firefighting, etc., without raising other taxes to offset the reduction.”

Some of the professions already have some property tax exemptions, depending on their situation, many of which are aimed at disabled veterans, according to a legislative analysis.

First responders who have a permanent service-connected disability are eligible for a “full property exemption.” Ditto for veterans who use wheelchairs because of disabilities.

For veterans who are “disabled to a degree of 10 percent or more by accident or during wartime service,” they can get an exemption for any property up to $5,000.

Counties and municipalities may grant additional homestead tax exemptions to Floridians age 65 or older with a household income of $20,000 or less.

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