Why did Amendment 1, a new homestead exemption, fail?
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Nov. 20, 2018 – It seemed like a slam dunk – of course Florida voters would approve a new tax break. Who doesn't like to save money?
That's what the Florida Legislature was banking on when it voted to place Amendment 1 on the 2018 ballot. The purpose: create a new homestead exemption for a property's assessed value between $100,000 and $125,000.
It turns out the amendment was the only one out of 12 that failed to reach the required 60-percent approval for passage. Unofficial results as of Wednesday showed the amendment got 58.07 percent.
Why did Amendment 1 fail while others got significant support?
It's not that other proposals had great merit. Amendment 10, for example, is a confusing cluster of four proposals, ranging from changing the beginning of the legislative session, to forcing some counties to elect their sheriff and tax collectors. The proposal received 63 percent of the votes.
Amendment 1 would have benefited fewer homeowners than most people probably imagined. It could have potentially raised taxes for property owners without a homestead exemption. Counties and municipalities likely would have cut services or raised taxes because of the lost tax revenue.
Maybe voters had that in mind before heading to the polls.
Or could it be voter confusion?
Or maybe the reason is much simpler: most voters don't read the full amendment, often just the title, and many might have been confused about Amendment 1, said Susan MacManus, an expert in Florida politics and a distinguished political science professor at University of South Florida.
Amendment 1's title read: "Increased Homestead Property Tax Exemption." Many people, especially those who don't own homes, don't know what a homestead exemption is (the tax break homeowners get on their primary residence), she told me.
If that was a factor, so was the lack of an organized statewide campaign to pass the amendment. It seems the Republican-controlled Legislature assumed the words "tax" and "exemption" alone would win over voters. The proposal was largely a political move by House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who was planning to run for governor when the Legislature approved it.
Local governments did their part
Local governments did a good job explaining the negative impact a new property tax exemption would have on their budgets: a $753 million revenue loss statewide in the first year. They told voters: we'll either cut services or raise tax rates. The latter would have hit properties without a homestead exemption (commercial and rentals) the hardest, which explains why many experts considered Amendment 1 a tax shift that would have burdened non-homestead properties.
It's hard to get in the minds of voters, so I asked them to explain their vote on Facebook. Many said the tax savings – an average of $270 per year – weren't worth sacrificing local government services.
"I voted against Amendment 1 because I understand that Brevard County needs the money to fund its current programs including repairs to our roads," wrote Vince Lamb, a member of the Indian River Lagoon Coalition. "I prefer not having tax increases, but I am okay with keeping rates the same."
"I thought about voting for amendment 1 since I have just become a homeowner," wrote Steven Heisler, who ran unsuccessfully for the Titusville City Council. "But the exemption would not apply to my house."
Heisler brings up a good point: 71 percent of Florida families would not have benefited from the exemption, according to Florida Tax Watch, a government watchdog organization that opposed the measure. That's largely because the amendment doesn't apply to people who rent, non-homestead properties and homestead properties whose assessed value is less than $100,000. The assessed value, used for tax purposes, is often much lower than the market value. That's largely because Florida caps the annual increase of assessed values for longtime homeowners.
Across Florida, 57 percent of homestead properties would have qualified for the new exemption one under Amendment 1. In Brevard County, 60 percent would have qualified.
If my Facebook commenters are an indication of the large electorate, then one thing is clear: voters like tax cuts but they also like the parks, libraries and decent roads that counties and municipalities need money to provide.
© 2018 Journal Media Group; Isadora Rangel is FLORIDA TODAY's public affairs and engagement editor and a member of the Editorial Board.
Information provided by Florida Realtors. Click here to see the original article.
Reprinted with permission Florida Realtors. All rights reserved.