Ballot initiative: Homestead property tax exemptions for teachers, cops, others, but at what cost?

By: - October 31, 2022 4:24 pm

New housing in Orlando. Credit: File, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Florida voters could offer significant property tax exemptions to Florida’s teachers, firefighters, active-duty members of the U.S. military, and other specified professions, amid a relatively hostile housing market.

But a well-meaning tax exemption may bring about other complications, such as a loss of local government tax revenue, according to a tax watchdog group. What may seem like a simple ballot initiative could mean many layers, leaving Floridians stumped on whether to support the measure or not.

Voters will go to the poll Nov. 8 on Constitutional Amendment No. 3 — the homestead property tax exemption — though early voting and mail-in ballots have already launched.

Amendment 3 is the result of a House joint resolution passed by the Florida Legislature in 2022. At least 60 percent of voters would have to approve the measure to prevail.

The Amendment states:

“Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to authorize the Legislature, by general law, to grant an additional homestead tax exemption for nonschool levies of up to $50,000 of the assessed value of homestead property owned by classroom teachers, law enforcement officers, correctional officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, child welfare services professionals, active duty members of the United States Armed Forces, and Florida National Guard members. This amendment shall take effect January 1, 2023.”

According to a legislative staff analysis, Florida homeowners already have a homestead exemption of up to $25,000 dollars. And there’s an additional exemption, also up to $25,000, which “applies to the property’s value between $50,000 and $75,000,” according to the analysis.

The League of Women Voters of Florida opposes the measure because it believes the Florida Constitution is not the place to determine tax policies.

“This proposal may have merit but the League has a longstanding position that ‘no tax sources or revenue should be specified, limited, exempted, or prohibited in the Constitution,’ according to the organization’s website.

The website also notes that approval of the amendment could lead to a loss of revenue for local governments.

The staff analysis, which ushered in Amendment 3 to be on the ballot, reports that starting in the 2023-24 fiscal year, the tax exemption would “reduce local property tax revenue for all levies other than school district levies by $85.9 million.”

The Florida Education Association — the statewide teacher union whose clientele is composed of Florida educators — is not taking a position on Amendment 3 one way or another.

Florida TaxWatch, described as a nonpartisan, nonprofit taxpayer research institute and government watchdog, reiterates that the group supports the amendment, saying “the benefits of Amendment 3 far outweigh the negative consequences of a tax shift.”

According to TaxWatch’s 2022 voter guide: “A tax shift is not a tax cut and, although that segment of the ‘Specified Critical Public Services Workforce’ who are fortunate enough to own their own homes will benefit, the burden of additional taxes will be borne by everybody else, with higher taxes on lower-income homeowners and small businesses, and increased rents for renters (including those members of the “Specified Critical Public Services Workforce” who rent their homes).”

That said, TaxWatch also notes that property tax revenue help fund government services, and if the revenue falls, “cities, counties, and special districts may experience difficulty maintaining important government services, such as law enforcement, fire departments, etc., without raising other taxes to make up the reduction.”

Some of the professions already have some property tax exemptions, depending on their situation, with many going to disabled veterans, according to the legislative analysis.

First responders who have a permanent service-related disability are entitled to a “complete exemption for the property.” Same for veterans who use wheelchairs due to a service-connected disability.

For veterans who are “disabled to a degree of 10 percent or more by misfortune or during wartime service” can get an exemption for any property up to $5,000.

Counties and municipalities may grant additional homestead tax exemptions towards Floridians aged 65 or older whose household income equals $20,000 or lower.

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Danielle J. Brown
Danielle J. Brown

Danielle J. Brown is a 2018 graduate of Florida State University, majoring in English with a focus in editing, writing, and media. While at FSU, she served as an editorial intern for International Program’s annual magazine, Nomadic Noles. Last fall, she fulfilled another editorial internship with Rowland Publishing, where she wrote for the Tallahassee Magazine, Emerald Coast Magazine, and 850 Business Magazine. She was born and raised in Tallahassee and reviews community theater productions for the Tallahassee Democrat. She spends her downtime traveling to all corners of Florida and beyond to practice lindy hop.