On Florida Amendment 11: Vote no

Seventh in a series

This ballot amendment asks voters to authorize the Florida Legislature to allow counties and cities to provide a total or substantial property tax exemption for a certain class of senior citizens. Amendment 11 would:

Provide an additional homestead tax exemption equal to the assessed value of homesteaded property, if the property has a market value less than $250,000 and the owner is aged 65 or over, has permanently resided on the property for 25 or more years and has “a low household income as defined by general law.”

Provide a tax benefit that could conceivably amount to a total exemption from property tax payments intended to support city and county services.

Grant municipalities and counties the right to decide if this additional tax exemption is best for them.

Florida law allows counties and cities to provide an additional $50,000 homestead exemption for any homeowner aged 65 or older whose household income is less than $27,030. Amendment 11 would enable local governments to extend that exemption by providing a total property tax exemption for some seniors with low incomes. This new exemption would require a supermajority vote — a majority plus one — by the governing body, while the existing senior exemption requires only a majority vote.

The James Madison Institute points out that Floridians who live in a modest home have good reason to question why an owner living in a house worth as much as $250,000 needs a benefit that could amount to a total exemption from property taxes. Such a person would be receiving free police and fire protection and services like senior citizen programs, parks and recreation.

Further, younger neighbors might also question the fairness of such an exemption designed exclusively for seniors. If these seniors have lived in their homes a long time, they’ve been protected by the Save Our Homes amendment, which means they are already paying less in taxes than their younger or newer neighbors.

Under certain circumstances in yet another law benefitting seniors — the Homestead Property Tax Deferral Act — those aged 65 or older may defer paying property taxes until the property is sold.

Amendment 11 would create yet another convolution in the state’s complex property tax system, shifting tax burdens to other residents who don’t qualify for a tax break.

This is a touchy and emotional issue. But at some point, voters must draw the line about permitting an inequitable tax system that is not applied equally to all. There comes a time when we must reject on principle a new tax law that specifically penalizes, or benefits, one group of Floridians over another. This amendment would cross that line because it could allow certain classes of homeowners to pay no property taxes whatsoever for the benefits they receive. A system in which everyone must pay at least some tax is based on the fairness principle that those receiving a benefit should ante up with at least some skin in the game.

We can justify some exceptions, such as tax breaks for permanently disabled veterans, but this amendment would go too far. Vote No on Amendment 11.

John R. Smith

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