Special Session on Property Taxes
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) - The House and Senate remained at impasse over property tax relief and will return in June to resumediscussions instead of trying to reach an agreement before the 2007 regular session ends Friday, legislative leaders announced Wednesday.Â House Speaker Marco Rubio and Senate President Ken Pruitt told their respective chambers they had agreed to postpone the biggest issue lawmakers were facing. The special session is tentatively scheduled for June 12-22, they said. "The issue is too important for our state and to our taxpayers for us to give them a product that they would not be proud of," said Pruitt, R-Port St. Lucie. Gov. Charlie Crist, who made cutting property taxes and fixing inequities in the system a major campaign issue last year, said he was disappointed "but not disheartened." "This is not simple stuff," Crist said. "Complicated stuff deserves time."The governor said the break will give everyone involved a chance to "hear from the boss again," meaning taxpayers who have been demanding cuts. Rubio, R-West Miami, said the chambers made "conceptual progress" in behind-the-scenes talks and were closer than ever to agreeing on "a massive tax cut" - but not close enough to come up with a final version before the regular 60-day session ends. He said he expects a compromise to emerge before the special session. "You can see the promised land and that's good, but the backside of it is that there are some pitfalls on the way there," Rubio said at a news conference.Â Legislative leaders declined to disclose details of their progress, but Rubio said a compromise could include changes in the way and amount that property is assessed through a state constitutional amendment. It could go on the ballot for voter approval as soon as this summer, he said. "If you make a mistake in the constitution, you cannot come back in session to correct that," Rubio said. "You have to go back to the people. Even if we wanted to, it would be impossible to craft a constitutional amendment in 72 hours."Â Â Rubio said the relief also would be targeted to taxpayers who need it the most.Â Â Many tax bills have soared in recent years because of rapidly rising property values. Owners of primary homes, known as homesteads, have been protected by the Save Our Homes Amendment that caps annual increases at 3 percent, but that has resulted in higher bills for other taxpayers.Â Â The Senate had offered a tax package that would save taxpayers about $20 billion over five years while a House plan would have cutÂ nearly $50 billion in the same time. Crist proposed a third version that would have cut taxes by about $34 billion over five years.Â One of the major stumbling blocks has been a Republican-sponsored House proposal that would reduce or eliminate property taxes on homesteads in exchange for increasing the statewide sales tax from 6 percent to at least 7 percent and possibly as much as 8.5 percent.Â Â Â The Senate has been unified in opposing any sales tax increase, arguing that it would shift the burden of supporting governmentÂ from some of Florida's wealthiest citizens to other taxpayers.Â Â "I don't think it's off the table, but it's also not an impediment," Rubio said.Â Â Senators also have objected to the House's insistence that taxes be cut $1,200 a year for homesteads, $750 for other residence and $3,300 for businesses. It would result in cuts so deep that cities and counties would be forced to slash vital services including police and fire, the senators say.Â Â Â Rubio said those numbers could change but they remain theÂ House's goal for "meaningful" tax relief.Â Â Pruitt said, "It's just a matter of us coming to a common number."Â Â Formal talks were suspended last week and never resumed as leaders tried to resolve those two key policy issues, Plans offered by both chambers and Crist all include the concept of rolling taxes back and then capping them with exceptions for population growth and inflation or increases in personal income.Â They differ, though, in how far taxes should be rolled back.Â Â Pruitt said he still considered a rollback, which could be accomplished without a constitutional amendment, to be on the table. Local officials urged that lawmakers include them in discussions during the special session."We support relief for businesses and non-homesteaded property owners who have faced the tax burden shift brought on by Save Our Homes," said Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala, who is also president of the Florida Association of Counties. "However, we cannot accept tens of billions of dollars in state-mandated cuts that would harm urban and rural counties in vastly different ways."
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