Survey: Florida's proposed property tax amendment not popular

Aug 6, 2008


South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Chris and Debbie Oerly never expected to save much from the Amendment 1 property tax plan voters passed overwhelmingly last January but they didn't expect to be hurt.

Then Debbie Oerly lost her job this summer as an elementary school paraprofessional when the Orange County School District slashed its budget, partly because of the tax cuts.

Chris Oerly's property appraisal business has been slow because of still-slumping housing sales. Now, local authorities are considering hiking property tax rates a move that would eat up much of the Oerlys' roughly $200 in tax savings promised by Amendment 1.

So the idea of voting for another heavily promoted property tax amendment doesn't have a lot of appeal to them.

"It would behoove everyone who's voting to read very carefully," Chris Oerly said. "What's $200 over the course of a year?"

While the numbers don't yet show that the Amendment 1 property tax reform created the economic "sonic boom" he promised, Gov. Charlie Crist has thrown his support behind Amendment 5, the proposal to replace school property taxes with higher taxes elsewhere. It will be on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Once again, Crist is describing the concept it would eliminate roughly 25 percent of any property owner's tax bill in return for higher sales taxes and perhaps spending cuts as steroids for Florida's sluggish economy.

The public, though, might be a harder sell this time.

A Florida Chamber of Commerce survey of 1,600 registered voters released Tuesday found only 40 percent supported the concept, while 40 percent opposed it. Constitutional amendments require 60-percent approval to pass.

"The public right now is in a state of distrust," said the Chamber's political director, Marian Johnson.

Crist did some cheerleading Tuesday as he quizzed visiting business executives about Florida's economic climate.

Florida Association of Realtors President Chuck Bonfiglio, whose group has pledged $1 million for the Amendment 5 campaign, told Crist that Amendment 1 was "absolutely" helping real-estate sales.

But so far, there's scant evidence to back that up. Home sales in June were 5 percent below the same month last year. And while prices edged up 1 percent from the prior month, they were still 16 percent lower than a year ago.

Also, Crist and Realtors had said Amendment 1's provision of property tax "portability" would ignite a surge of home sales by residents eager to move but fearful they couldn't afford taxes on a more-expensive house. But economists say they're seeing only about one-third of the sales they'd expected statewide.

Bonfiglio, a Cooper City real estate agent, acknowledged the amendment's benefit is "more psychological than it is anything else at this point." But he said, "We believe it is a good start, and Amendment 5 will be a lot more."

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