Riddled with homestead exemption and property tax jargon, students may be tempted to ignore Amendment 1, wishing to avoid the potential migraine that could occur from reading its 500-word-plus summary on Tuesday’s primary ballot. These sentiments are underscored by the 32 percent of USF student voters in Tuesday’s straw poll who said they wouldn’t vote on Amendment 1.
In an effort to reduce the confusion, the amendment has been broken down into its four provisions, along with a breakdown of what the potential $1.55 billion in lost educational funding means for university students.
Educational cuts and the UniversityThough the thought of losing more than $1 billion toward education in a five-year span may worry students – particularly in light of the 3.8 percent budget cut the University is now battling – the losses generated by Amendment 1 would primarily affect K-12 public schools.
“Certainly, if we received substantive funding from local government rather than state government, I would say that it’d have a significant impact, but the fact of the matter is, the largest investment or portions of our budget come from state and private investment,” said Ralph Wilcox, provost and vice president of academic affairs. “It’s unclear, quite frankly, what impact that will have on the State University System.”
The predicted $1.55 billion loss stems from a reduced tax base. By offering these exemptions, the local government receives less money overall, meaning that all of the schools within each district would receive less local funding. Additionally, the amendment does not state how this loss would be made up, which is why political scientist Susan MacManus feels so many people haven’t decided one way or another regarding the amendment.
“It’s not clear that the cut will definitely occur,” MacManus said. “I mean, it could, if the state Legislature doesn’t put that money in the appropriations bill, but at this point it’s really difficult to say that this money would be lost and where it would be lost. The uncertainty in specifics of the financial condition of the state and legislative actions have made a lot of people confused on how to vote for this bill.”
One form of local aid is through lottery sales. According to floridalottery.com, Hillsborough County lottery expenditures contributed $70,247,443 toward education during the 2006-2007 school year. Of that amount, $45,601,793 went to aid Florida universities. However, the Budget and Policy Analysis page of the USF Web site states that the University’s portion of lottery sales accounted for a mere 1.67 percent of USF’s operating budget for the year.
Provision 1: Not quite ‘double or nothing’The first provision increases homestead exemption but, contrary to common belief, does not double it. As it stands, homeowners do not have to pay taxes on the first $25,000 of their property. Amendment 1 would excuse homeowners from an additional $25,000 from municipal and local taxes but would not exempt homeowners from school district taxes on that additional $25,000.
According to the St. Petersburg Times, this means homeowners would receive a total exemption of about $40,000. This exemption could aid graduating seniors who plan on buying homes in the Tampa Bay area, or continuing students who are sick of sharing close quarters in an apartment.
Those in the market for a new home may have to spend more than they hoped to reap the benefits of this tax break, however. It only applies to properties assessed at more than $50,000, and homes costing less than $75,000 will receive only a portion of the benefits, Florida Today reports.
Provisions two, three and four may affect faculty, staff and commuter students – or their parents – more directly than those residing in on- or off-campus apartments.
Provision 2: Portability – or, tax caps that move with youAmendment 1’s second provision allows Save Our Homes property owners to transfer up to $500,000 of their benefits to their next residence. Save Our Homes prevents homesteaded properties’ tax assessments from increasing more than 3 percent each year. As the real estate market blossomed in recent years, this program protected homeowners from ballooning property taxes, though it has kept some from moving for fear of losing their Save Our Homes status and paying higher taxes for virtually the same house.
Critics said that this provision will only widen the disparity homeowner costs. For example, in new homeowner (such as someone who just graduated from college) may pay $5,000 in property taxes, whereas someone with a pre-existing Save Our Homes exemption could move into a similar house in the neighborhood and pay only $1,500.
Provision 3: Businesses’ benefitNonhomestead property, such as businesses and vacation homes, would also see a break thanks to the third provision, which offers a $25,000 exemption for tangible personal property. This property encompasses a variety of office equipment, including computers, furniture and company vehicles, according to the Florida Sun-Sentinel.
Though this won’t aid many students, USF entrepreneurs could benefit – if the amendment doesn’t persuade them to start their businesses elsewhere.
“Small businesses are the growth engine of Florida’s economy,” MacManus said. “Younger people, as entrepreneurs, would be helped by (this provision), but you can also argue that if you take away some revenues from local government, then the lack of services may make it less attractive to go into a business in the area.”
Provision 4: Limiting tax increases for second homes, businessesIn addition to receiving a $25,000 exemption, tax increases on assessed value for businesses and non-primary residences will be capped at 10 percent a year. Think of it as Save Our Homes – minus the portability proposal offered in Amendment 1 – for nonhomestead property.
These limits on assessment increases do not apply to school district taxes, though.