A political action committee has formed to orchestrate challenges to two proposed constitutional amendments on Florida’s Nov. 6 ballot that had previously appeared to have little organized opposition.
Floridians for Tax Fairness, with Florida Policy Institute founding executive director Joseph Pennisi listed as the chairman, states in a Monday statement that it will oppose amendments 1 and 5.
Amendment 1 would raise the state’s homestead exemption on taxable property values from $50,000 to $75,000 for all taxing entities but school districts, for which a $25,000 exemption will remain in place.
According to the Florida Association of Counties (FAC), the increased exemption would reduce local governments’ and other taxing authorities’ revenues by nearly $700 million a year.
Pennisi maintains the proposed homestead exemption extension would benefit those who own homes worth more than $100,000 while offering little benefit to those who own less valuable homes.
“Amendment 1 would not provide any relief to the majority of property owners in our state,” Pennisi said. “Tax breaks to benefit the wealthiest homeowners shift even more of the burden for essential government services like public safety onto lower and middle-income homeowners, and renters who can’t afford to own a home.”
The Legislature placed the proposal on the ballot during its 2017 session with the Senate specifically doing so as part of a deal with the House to expand gaming.
Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran said at the time that the increased exemption would be one of the largest, if not the "largest tax cut in the history of Florida.”
Volusia County Property Appraiser Larry Bartlett told the Daytona Regional Chamber of Commerce recently that the homestead exemption is not “a benefit for everybody.”
Bartlett said 90 percent of the homes in one area of Volusia County, Ponce Inlet, would qualify and benefit from the increased homestead exemption, but in another area, Holly Hill, only about 5 percent of homeowners would benefit.
He said if passed, Amendment 1 would diminish Volusia County's tax base by $1.3 billion, prompting higher taxes for properties that don't qualify for the increased homestead exemption and, eventually, higher millages for all, he said.
Amendment 5, also placed on the ballot by the Legislature in 2017, would require a two-thirds vote by the House and Senate to approve any new or increased taxes or fees.
Supporters say the two-thirds vote would protect taxpayers from dramatic "swings" in control of the legislature and would make it harder for state taxes to increase. It would not limit taxation on local government or school districts.
The PAC maintains “passage of this amendment means any attempt to eliminate special tax breaks for profitable corporations would be easily blocked by a few bought-and-paid-for politicians.”
“Amendment 5 is a dream come true for career politicians and their large corporate benefactors because it would make it nearly impossible to close corporate tax loopholes and end the special treatment of the wealthiest taxpayers in the state,” Pennisi said.
Tallahassee CPA Sumner Reed is listed as the PAC’s treasurer and Tallahassee attorney Jennifer Blohm of Meyer, Brooks, Demma and Blohm is the registered agent.
The PAC will file its first campaign report listing donors on Sept. 14.
The League of Women Voters of Florida, Florida Education Association, AFSCME, Progress Florida and Sierra Club of Florida are among opponents to amendments 1 and 5 expected to support the new PAC.
“Florida currently has the wrong priorities,” Pennisi writes. “We’ve given special tax breaks to big corporations instead of funding education, health care, public safety, and other services that benefit our families, communities, and economy.” Pennisi said.
The two measures are among 12 proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot. They must be approved by 60 percent of voters to be adopted.