By Jim Bleyer
With Florida voters gaining the capability to vote on increasing the homestead exemption next year, Florida’s counties and cities are in full panic mode painting doomsday scenarios should the constitutional amendment pass in November 2018.
Florida voters will be asked whether or not the non-schools homestead exemption should be expanded to $75,000 from $50,000 for homes worth $100,000 or more. If 60 percent of voters approve, the expanded homestead exemption becomes part of the state constitution.
If there was ever a middle class tax cut, this is it.
Chicken Little politicos are claiming that vital services will have to be severely cut because of the loss of revenue. Through their media mouthpieces, public officials declared they would be forced to primarily scale back public safety.
Herr Goebbels would be proud.
What local governmental entities really fear: accountability for the enormous pork buried in their annual budgets.
But grab the popcorn and Slim Jims. The information flow hardly will be one sided over the next 18 months with Florida’s number one tax activist, Doug Guetzloe, entering the fray.
“Passing a budget with or without cuts requires discernment and establishing priorities of existing community needs,” Guetzloe told Tampa Bay Beat. “Government should be able to articulate which governmental services should be maintained and which ones can be reduced for the benefit of the taxpayers.”
Then Guetzloe threw down the gauntlet:
“Bureaucrats and tax and spend politicians always wave the red flag of reduced law enforcement and fire services in a vain attempt to frighten the public. These are the propaganda tools of cowards.”
Guetzloe will have important allies. It required two-thirds of both houses of the Florida Legislature to approve the constitutional amendment for the 2018 ballot. It is difficult to envision well over 100 legislators not defending their votes.
The dialogue will shift from scare tactics by local governments to their becoming accountable for crony capital tax breaks, inadequate impact fees, and gargantuan consulting contracts.
Florida daily newspapers, who have discarded ethics and balanced coverage in favor of the bottom line and easier governmental access, cooperate in airing the vital services charade. The Miami Herald, in an editorial last week, perpetuated the myth citing severe cutbacks in Dade County’s police and fire departments.
But the Herald, known for its award-winning, lively investigative reporting of the eighties and nineties, shares a Tallahassee bureau with another major Florida newspaper. By opting for cost cutting instead of exclusive coverage of state government, the papers are not providing their readers with full and balanced reportage.
In fact, the Herald’s Tallahassee partner, the Tampa Bay Times, editorialized against the homestead exemption increase two weeks ago. At least the Herald and Times editorial writers don’t share the same office…..yet. Maybe they can find some cheap real estate in Belle Glade.
Not to be outdone by their peers in Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Dade counties, the Palm Beach Post bleated in a prominent headlined story that officials there were considering an extra half-cent sales tax to cover the revenue shortage of a homestead exemption increase. Palm Beach County voters would have to approve this type of budget juggling. Good luck with that.
Also weighing in was the SunSentinel in Broward County, predicting the proposed amendment will meet the 60 percent threshhold at the tail end of its pro-tax editorial.
Duval County Property Appraiser Jerry Holland was less one-sided in his assessment of the ramifications of an increased homestead exemption as reported in the Florida Times-Union.
We don’t necessarily agree that the proposed constiutional amendment is a slam dunk. We can predict unabated trench warfare over the next year-and-a-half. The optimum result: that local officials abandon the terror gambit and explain the rationale behind their annual budgets. Hopefully, the news media will cast aside its fealty to the political establishment and fairly report those explanations to the millions of citizens that cannot spend weekdays at city halls and county courthouses.