Sorting through this year’s gubernatorial campaign attacks has long since become taxing — namely, who raised taxes and how much they’ve cost voters.
The latest charge from Democratic challenger Charlie Crist comes from a campaign ad released July 31, 2014. In it, he attacked Republican incumbent Gov. Rick Scott’s budget decisions. “Rick Scott raised property taxes,” the ad said. A narrator doubles down on the claim, saying Scott raised “your” property taxes.
Scott came into office promising to cut property taxes, so PolitiFact Florida thought this claim deserved an audit. Did Rick Scott raise Florida’s property taxes? We’ll budget some time to sort this one out.
Taxes for schools
Crist’s campaign said the claim came from a May 5, 2014, story in the Tampa Tribune detailing a projected increase in the property taxes that municipalities contribute to public schools.
This portion of your property tax bill, called the Required Local Effort, has been a Scott target since his 2010 campaign, when he promised to cut the rate first by one and later by two mills over seven years (we rated both Promise Broken).
Both the Legislature and the governor have a say in the millage rate, which is used to calculate taxes on the assessed value of a property (one mill is equal to $1 in taxes per $1,000 in value). When Scott took office, the rate was 5.38 mills, which then went up to 5.446 in 2011, but was set at 5.18 in 2013.
For 2014, Scott and the Legislature didn’t move the rate either up or down, leaving it at 5.18. Because of the way the rate is calculated, the state Department of Education in July adjusted the rate down to 5.08 mills. That’s important to note, because that means this year’s rate is actually lower than the year before.
With a steady increase in property values across the state, the current rate will be bringing in more tax money than before, despite no action from the governor or lawmakers.
“If Charlie Crist is accusing us of raising property tax rates, that’s just not true,” Scott campaign spokesperson Matt Moon told PolitiFact Florida. Instead, Crist is focusing on the higher tax revenue.
The latest Florida Education Finance Program calculations from the Department of Education estimate collections for the Required Local Effort would increase by about $370 million in an $18.9 billion budget.
Critics (including the Crist campaign) have equated that rise in collections with a tax increase. Crist campaign spokesman Kevin Cate told PolitiFact Florida “inaction is also an action. And in this case, Rick Scott’s actions raised taxes.”
If that’s the case, the same logic could apply to Crist.
The campaign doesn’t mention that Crist also oversaw changes in both the tax rate and collections from the Required Local Effort. We checked the rates and collections going back to before former Gov. Crist took office in 2007 and found that Crist also saw ups and downs among both.
Most notable is 2007, Crist’s first year, when the budget lowered the tax rate. But because of increasing taxable values just before the Great Recession, tax collections still went up. In subsequent years, Crist-era budgets kept raising the tax rate but saw falling collections by the end of his term.
The current rate and projected collections under Scott are both less than they were during Crist’s last approved budget.
Crist said, “Rick Scott raised property taxes.”
As Florida homeowners know, the taxes they pay are based on both tax rates and what the current property values are. What Crist means is that because taxable values are rising, collections from school property taxes are going up, even though the tax rate for the Required Local Effort is not going up.
Scott did sign a budget his first year that briefly raised those rates, but collections dropped anyway — a phenomenon that happened to Crist as well. Even as collections are projected to increase, both the rates and tax revenue are now less than when Scott took office. Collections are increasing because property values are going up after a historic recession and loss of real estate values.
Given all these factors, we rate Crist’s statement Mostly False.