TALLAHASSEE -- It is the longest of the 11 amendments on Florida’s longest-ever ballot, and its multi-billion dollar impact could mean major tax relief for first-time homebuyers, owners of second homes, small businesses and, especially, large corporations. But it could also mean higher taxes for Florida residents and massive cuts to struggling local governments.
As voters decide whether to vote up or down on Amendment 4, hanging in the balance could be a few hundred dollars in tax cuts for the average new homebuyer, and as much as $600,000 in tax breaks for multimillion-dollar properties like the famed Fontainebleau hotel in Miami Beach.
Proponents of Amendment 4 argue it will create thousands of new jobs while reinvigorating the state’s troubled housing market and saving homeowners millions of dollars.
Opponents paint a much grimmer picture: Full-time Floridians shouldering the tax burden of snowbirds and corporations, while governments are forced to make bone-deep cuts to social services.
“It will definitely mean cuts to services, unless [local officials] raise the millage rates,” said Jack McCabe, CEO of McCabe Research & Consulting, a real estate firm in Deerfield Beach. McCabe said he is in favor of property tax reform and efforts to revive the housing market, but called Amendment 4 a “patch job” that will shift tax costs from businesses onto long-time homeowners.
Florida voters will ultimately decide, as the amendment — along with 10 others on this year’s lengthy ballot — requires a 60 percent margin to make it into the Constitution.
Both sides have used ads and social media in an attempt to distill the complex 700-word amendment into digestible sound bites like “Tired of getting your assets taxed off?” and “Tax breaks for wealthy snowbirds?”
The Florida Association of Realtors has poured $3.5 million into the campaign to pass the amendment, with ads that key in to homeowners’ frustration with property taxes.
“Our taxes were out of sight — it just broke us,” said David Umbstead, a Lake Wales homeowner featured in a pro-Amendment 4 ad. “They’ve taxed us to death. If the taxes would’ve come down, it would’ve probably saved us. But there’s no hope at this point.”
According to estimates, Amendment 4 would provide tax relief worth about $1.7 billion over four years, with large breaks going to owners of second homes and businesses that own commercial property.
Those groups would benefit from a section in the amendment that replaces the current 10 percent cap on annual property tax increases for non-homesteaded properties with a new 5 percent cap.
In a battered real estate market that has recently been buoyed by international homebuyers, housing professionals say lowering taxes for non-permanent residents will help boost home sales. Business groups support the tax cuts for businesses as a way to create more jobs.
“Think of the savings to small business owners, and how much extra money they’ll have to hire more employees,” said John Sebree, vice president of public policy for the Florida Realtors, in a web ad. “The small business owners I talk to say they’re afraid to commit to new employees because they just don’t know how much their property tax bill is going to be from year to year.”