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Tax break eyed for Florida teachers, cops, military members

Classroom teachers, members of the military and first responders could receive higher homestead property-tax exemptions under a measure lawmakers could put before voters in November.

Meanwhile, a separate proposal moving in the House would allow the Legislature to periodically change homestead exemptions to reflect increases in housing prices.

The Senate Community Affairs on Tuesday backed a proposal that sponsor Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, said could benefit about 413,000 Floridians, including 247,000 public- and private-school teachers.

“This will be a big, big impact for those that were really our first responders and those that we have seen have such a great impact in our communities,” Brodeur said. “This is also an attempt to help make housing more affordable for those folks.”

However, local governments raised concerns about carving tax breaks out of city and county money.

In voting for the measure, Sen. Gary Farmer, D-Lighthouse Point, said “we want to help people who are underpaid” as housing prices increase but that more data is needed on the financial impacts to local governments.

No numbers were available on potential hits to specific local governments, but Brodeur said the impact statewide would top $80 million.

“We do not yet know exactly where that $80 million will come from,” Brodeur said. “Obviously, those with greater populations will have a greater impact.”

Edward Labrador, a lobbyist for the Florida Association of Counties, said the proposal would cause a tax shift of about $83 million that governments need to operate. That could affect tax bills of business owners, homeowners who don’t benefit from the higher exemption and teachers, first responders and military members who rent.

“You're making a choice and saying (those not getting the exemptions) are not deserving, only these people are deserving,” Labrador said. “And you know what? I don't know how you feel about that, but that doesn't seem very fair to me.”

Chris Doolin, a lobbyist for the Small County Coalition, requested changes in the proposal to protect financially constrained counties, as many of the small rural communities are already “poor.”

“You're going to hear from cities and counties … they want to keep their property taxes low, as low as possible,” Doolin said. “You're going to see them say, ‘We're going to increase our property tax because the cost of running the sheriff's office is higher. We're going to increase our property tax or increase sales tax because we have wastewater and stormwater studies that have been mandated.’”

Currently, homeowners can qualify for a homestead tax exemption on the first $25,000 of the appraised value of property. They also can qualify for a $25,000 homestead exemption on the value between $50,000 and $75,000. Any higher property value is taxable.

The exemption for the value between $50,000 and $75,000 doesn’t apply to property taxes collected for school districts, and neither would Brodeur’s proposal.

Under the proposal, residents could receive an additional $50,000 exemption if the owner is a classroom teacher, law enforcement officer, correctional officer, firefighter, child-welfare services professional or active in the U.S. armed forces or the Florida National Guard. The exemption would cover the property’s value between $100,000 and $150,000.

Identical House proposals have not been heard in committees.

A separate homestead-exemption proposal was approved Tuesday in an 11-3 vote by the House Local Administration & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee.

The measure by Rep. Jason Fischer, R-Jacksonville, would allow lawmakers to periodically change the second $25,000 exemption to reflect increases in housing prices.

“This will provide a buffer against inflation to prevent Floridians from being priced out of their homes and provide direly needed assistance to those who are just struggling to get by,” Fischer said.

A Senate version has not been heard in committees.

If passed by the Legislature, the proposals would have to be approved by 60 percent of voters in the 2022 general election.

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