The bottom line on Amendment 4

Is it a boon to FL homeowners and builders, or a severe threat to county and city services?

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But running against a tax break for Florida homeowners isn’t exactly a winning strategy in an election year. So it’s perhaps not surprising that the two candidates in the race to succeed Rob Turner as Property Appraiser in Hillsborough County favor the measure.

Republican Ronda Storms supported the measure when it was proposed in the Legislature and says that while she respects the concerns of local governments, “the greater weight of my concern rests with property owners trying to hang onto their property and with the needs of our fragile economy.”

Her Democratic challenger, Bob Henriquez, is on the same page, saying he’s not convinced that the arguments by the cities and counties should take precedent over homeowners getting a break.

“I don’t think that’s a strong enough argument simply in of itself, just because we lose money. If we gain money because it helps the economy it can balance each other off.”

The measure was placed on the ballot in the spring of 2011 by Storms and her GOP colleagues, with plenty of Democrats joining in. Only two Bay area lawmakers voted against it, one being St. Petersburg House Democrat Rick Kriseman. He said the idea behind it was to give first-time homebuyers a chance to buy a home, but he questions the definition of a first-time buyer.

“It’s hard for me to look at the implications of it and the loss of revenue and the impact it’s going to have on our cities and counties when the people who are benefiting make their primary residences up north,” he says.

The St. Pete legislator says those who have had their homes foreclosed at the beginning of the housing bust could also be considered first-time homebuyers.

Ben Fairbrother, the campaign manager for Amendment 4, rebuts Kriseman, saying the tightening credit standards imposed by the banks are going to make it difficult for anyone who recently foreclosed to get a loan.

But he says that means someone who lost his home in the recession but has built back his credit should get a tax break. “I think it’s beneficial for Florida to have more buyers back on the market and buy up those vacant properties.”

As for the “recapture rule,” it was that issue that motivated New Port Richey state Senator Mike Fasano to craft a bill in the first place last year. Until a constituent complained to him about her tax bill going up while the assessed value had gone down, he had never heard of “recapture.”

“We focused on the recapture rule when the Florida Realtors came to us and said, ‘Could we incorporate all of these [measures] into one joint resolution, and would you sponsor it? And we said of course, yes,” the term-limited Senator running for a House seat told CL last week.

The Florida Association of Counties’ Mosteller says they could support the Fasano bill if it were just highlighting recapture, but says that “we think they put recapture in to lull our residents into feeling they were getting a deal.”

Florida Realtors has poured more than $2 million into the campaign to pass the measure, which will require 60 percent of the electorate’s approval to pass.

In addition to giving certain homebuyers a property tax break, advocates say it will lead to a boost in building new homes. A report produced by Florida Tax Watch specifically says at least 319,000 “additional home sales” would occur due to Amendment 4 during the 10-year period following its passage and implementation, leading to the creation of over 20,000 new jobs.

The history of property tax exemptions in Florida goes back to the 1930s, when developers and government officials gave homebuyers a $5,000 exemption to entice people to what the Gainesville Sun once described as “little more than an inhospitable swamp.” Over the years the exemption was increased, going up to $25,000 by 1980.

In 1992 Floridians voted for the Save Our Homes amendment, which put a cap on the annual increase in the assessed value of a resident’s home to 3 percent or the rate of inflation, whichever was lower.

But by the late ’90s inequities were being exposed by the law, such as the fact that owners of homestead properties being discouraged from moving, as they would lose their increasingly considerable tax advantage.

In 2008 Floridians voted for Amendment 1, which increased the homestead exemption to $50,000 and provided for “portability,” allowing the difference between market value assessments to be transferred to new homesteads.

And now there’s the latest attempt to provide property tax relief, Amendment 4.

State Senator Mike Fasano says he believes the benefits will outweigh the negatives of reduced revenues to cities and counties. “Our housing industry in the state of Florida is struggling,” he laments. “I mean, it’s struggling,”

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