Raising Local Taxes in Florida Could Become Harder

TALLAHASSEE — City and county boards would face a higher threshold for approving property-tax hikes, under a proposal that started moving forward Monday in the Legislature.

In a 15-7 vote, the House Ways & Means Committee backed a bill (HB 1195) that would require two-thirds votes by city, county and special district governing boards to approve increases in millage rates, which represent dollars assessed per $1,000 in property value.

“I think this bill strikes a nice balance between allowing local governments the ability to get the revenue necessary to provide core services, but also making it clear that if you’re going to raise the property taxes you better have a darn good reason,” House bill sponsor Sam Garrison, R-Fleming Island, said.

Rep. Jeff Holcomb, R-Spring Hill, expressed reservations about the measure “taking powers away from a duly elected official” but voted for the bill.

“My county that I served in, and probably many counties, run pretty lean,” said Holcomb, who previously served as a member of the Hernando County Commission. “My concern is, how do you improve your parks? How do you fix your roads?”

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Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat who voted against the bill, said she’d like to see it “softened,” as lawmakers consider a number of bills “tightening our grip over local governments.”

“I have a lot of concerns where I see many bills that kind of have similar intentions passing at the same time, because it just creates a scenario where local governments are inevitably going to fail,” Eskamani said.

Most local boards need simple majority votes to approve property-tax increases to help fund their annual budgets.

Under the bill, two-third votes would not be required when tax rates remain the same but property owners pay more because of increased values.

Supporters of a higher threshold say they want to keep taxes low. Garrison said his goal is to “protect the interests of working men and women of this state.”

The Florida Constitution includes maximum millage rates that can be set by local governments, except special districts. It sets 10-mill limits for counties, cities and school boards.

The Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties have not taken stands on Garrison’s proposal.

“Local governments are given an incentive to not use all the (taxing) capacity they have in a given year, under the current system,” said Bob McKee, deputy director of public policy for the Florida Association Counties. “There is a savings piece, so that if they choose not to go up to the entirety of what law would allow under a majority vote … they get to save that capacity, potentially use that in a future year. We’re concerned this provision may give different incentives to local governments in terms of how they behave.”

The Senate Community Affairs Committee was scheduled late Monday afternoon to take up the Senate version of the bill (SB 1322), sponsored by Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill.

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A House analysis suggested the Legislature might need two-thirds votes to approve the proposal. The state Constitution requires two-thirds votes by the Legislature when mandating changes that would reduce local-government authority to raise revenues.

In 2018, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment that requires supermajority approval in both the House and Senate when seeking an increase involving taxes or fees.

The issue was put on the ballot as polling was close in the governor’s race during Republican Ron DeSantis’ first run for governor. At the time, opponents complained the intent was to “stack the deck” in case a Democrat took office.

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