For the purpose of argument, Iâ€™m going to say that the democratic process, at some level, is about who gets candy and who gets cod liver oil. When one group gets their way, theyâ€™ve almost never asked for fish oil.
Although it may elude children, adults know in the long run who the winner will be on the health front, and itâ€™s not the recipient of the candy.
While you wonâ€™t actually see â€œcandy and cod liver oilâ€ on the ballot, Iâ€™ve learned through three conversations on property taxes sponsored by The Village Square this year, thatâ€™s partly what Florida’s January 29th vote will be about.
We invited politically diverse speakers who are knowledgeable on the property tax issue to educate us. Then rather than arguing, we listened.
While there was substantial disagreement on just how many teaspoons of cod liver oil (in the form of budget cuts) government should take, there was wide agreement on some fundamentals.
It seems that Florida is having a bit of a chow down lately courtesy of â€œSave Our Homesâ€ and weâ€™re starting to pay the price.
Before â€œSave Our Homesâ€ passed in 1992, capping the property tax increase for homesteaded property owners at 3%, we all paid our fair share. After â€œSave Our Homesâ€ we have kept taxes low for the majority on the backs of the minority. Blessed with the sunshine people want, Florida has until recently been able to make ends meet because new residents, first-time homebuyers, snowbirds, renters and those wanting to do business in this great state remained willing to foot the bills.
But now these people are carrying pitchforks over the taxes they are paying; there just arenâ€™t enough of them numerically to prevail at the ballot box. Sooner or later though, and it may be sooner in the form of decreased tourism and a slowed real estate market, these villagers are going to poke us with their pitchforks.
As if that werenâ€™t enough, â€œSave Our Homesâ€ has had another unintended consequence.
When local governments make spending decisions, it is fundamental to representative democracy that they have to run the gauntlet with citizens to raise taxes. But because the burden of increases has been borne by the minority, most of us never felt it in our pocketbooks so we never showed up at â€œcity hallâ€. Spending, as a result, tended to creep up.
Like most legislative results of the democratic process, Amendment 1 imperfectly attempts to tackle the problem. Non-homesteaded property owners will have a 10% cap on tax increases, businesses get tangible personal property exemptions, and the 3% annual homestead tax increase cap will be portable to a new home (if it passes constitutional muster). Making the amendment attractive to more voters is a doubling of the homestead exemption (less the percentage dedicated to schools).
Many feel what will ultimately be required to restore tax fairness to Florida, along with cuts in spending, is to either abandon the wildly popular â€œSave Our Homesâ€ or make it more equitable. But with Amendment 1 giving most of us our dessert now â€“ in the form of portability and doubling the homestead exemption â€“ it might become impossible for 60% of Floridians to vote to take the prescribed medicine later.
One of the forumâ€™s speakers, Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro evoked Walt Kellyâ€™s long-running comic strip Pogo: â€œWe have met the enemy and he is us.â€
There has been a time or two in history (think Rome) when the peopleâ€™s demand for â€œcandyâ€ has gotten the better of them and the whole civilization came crashing down. I, for one, think this particular democracy is capable of better.
You know, now they make cod liver oil in pills that donâ€™t give you fish-burp.