Another thing that Floridians need to be aware of -- if the Florida Senate and House pass sweeping property tax reforms, it will really undercut the counties' and municipalities' ability to adequately respond and recover from disasters.
The public is under the faulty assumption that their property taxes will go down so everything will be hunky dory.
The truth is, the sales tax increases to make up for property tax decreases will only hurt people in lower income brackets -- many who aren't homeowners anyway, or who are on fixed incomes -- and it will not make up for the budgetary shortfalls.
And also, many people don't understand this, the property tax breaks are not just for residents, but seasonal snowbirds as well, giving them an unfair tax break at the expense of those of us who choose to live here year-round.
My husband works for Sarasota county, and they are already laying off workers in planning and development due to the housing market slump. And this is before any cuts that will be made before proposed property tax cuts are implemented. Some larger counties may be forced to lay off thousands of workers. I'm sure they'll be able to pay their reduced property taxes while in the unemployment line.
Yes, we need property tax reform. However, it needs to be based 1) on residency (if you aren't a resident, tough -- if you can afford to own two homes then you can afford to pay taxes on both; if you can't, sell one of them), 2) on income brackets, and 3) disability/age.
Governments are looking at budget cuts of tens of millions of dollars in some cases.
And what about counties like Charlotte (where I live) who don't have a large sales tax base to rely upon like Sarasota, Hillsborough, Pinellas, etc.? Charlotte is still trying to finalize recovery from Charley.
I'm a homeowner, and would I like to pay less property taxes? Sure, duh. However, I'm not willing to lose services like County Extension (I just got an email that our local extension office will be losing over $200,000 and three staffing positions), libraries, county parks, etc.
The city of North Port had to dip into its emergency reserves last year to meet operating expenses. Yet this year they decided not to enact higher building impact fees. What are they going to do when they lose property tax income?
So what happens when the counties lose all this income and can't afford to provide emergency pet-friendly shelters? Or doesn't have the available county staff to run early evacuations for persons with special needs? And don't think that they won't cut police and fire service -- there are already counties talking about renegotiating contracts with fire and police unions because once funding is cut, they won't be able to afford the contracts currently in place.
(Political comments were removed - they are not allowed on this site.)
Why is this disaster-related? It's no coincidence that we are the most prepared state when it comes to storms. Our county governments -- at their current level of service and milage -- are adequately funded to do what needs to be done for residents for the most part. How is the state going to step in when its funding is reduced because of property tax reductions? How are local governments going to be able to afford to keep staff to prepare and respond to emergencies of broad scope like Charley or Andrew? How will the average person be able to afford to stock up for a hurricane when their sales tax goes up?
Property tax reductions are the first step towards a state income tax. Most people don't realize that, but remember how they sold us the lottery as "helping education." No, it gave them a reason to slash the education budget and supplement the cuts with lottery income. When they sold it to us, it was supposed to be an ADDITION to education funding, not a replacement for it.
(This post has drifted away from the disaster preparedness aspects of the Hurricane Ask/Tell Forum and has been moved. A strong caution that political commentary is not permitted here - in any Forum.)