I have just read the 22 page playbook that was written by the Florida Association of Counties for local governments for the sole purpose of delaying or eliminating any chance of property tax relief for Florida citizens this year. It is interesting to note that this County report, paid for with your tax dollars, severely criticizes the plans of the State government to cut the property taxes of our citizens, yet there is no mention of any specific tax reduction plan that the Florida Association of Counties would accept from the State to help reduce the burden of high property taxes. It appears to me that the County Association's main goal is to frighten both citizens and legislators into inaction for this year.
As a former Tarpon Springs City Commissioner I can understand that local governments are concerned about the possible cuts to their budgets. There are over 30 other State Legislators who have former local government experience and to say that we in the State government do not understand local budgets is just not true. What is true however is the fact that our state is facing an economic crisis and Florida citizens need immediate tax relief. At the many meetings I and other legislators have hosted for our citizens recently, hardly anyone believed that trimming the fat at the local government level will have the safety impacts that these governments are threatening. The only exceptions may have been when these meetings were pre-packed with people who work for the local governments or were volunteers for the libraries or other programs that may be affected by the possible budget cuts. When families have to trim their budgets at home, they do not start with baby formula, utilities and other necessities, they start with luxuries. They decide to go on a 3-day Disney vacation instead of a two-week Hawaii vacation. They wait an extra year or two before buying a new car or a new washer and dryer. No responsible local government will put their citizens in danger by cutting essential services like fire, police and ambulances first. But if they admitted that, then they would not be able to scare Florida's seniors, disabled citizens and families into believing they really need property tax reform. What many people do not realize, but it is important to clarify, is that property taxes only make up a portion of local government's revenues. These other revenues would not be affected by property tax cuts.
Let's look at the financial facts in this debate. While it is true that some counties have reduced their tax millage rate slightly, they have also continued to greatly increase their revenues based on the rising value of home and business properties. The net result has been massive property tax increases. Our citizens need to know that in the last five years local governments have increased their property tax revenues almost 84%. Since the year 2000 that increase was almost 100%. And if you go back to 1996 local government property tax revenue has increased by 148%. I believe that any reasonable taxpayer who looks at the facts will agree that the local governments' property tax revenues have grown 2-3 times as fast as the taxpayer's ability to pay for them. Florida taxpayers are being taxed many billions of dollars more than they can afford to pay and if this continues Florida will start to experience the stoppage of job creation and economic growth.
In closing let me stress a few very important points. The State Legislature gives Floridians a lot more credit than their local governments do. We at the State Legislative level believe that taxes for Florida property owners are too high, have grown too fast, and are endangering families, businesses and our State's economic well being. We believe that property tax relief is not only possible but it is necessary. Unlike some local governments, we at the State Legislature are not spending millions of dollars in ads and scare tactics to try and stop property tax relief this year. In contrast we are fighting hard so that our citizens get the responsible property tax relief they deserve. Let us all remember that local government is not a private business. Local government is not accountable to shareholders. It is accountable to the taxpayers and our taxpayers can no longer afford the large appetites of local government. WE believe that local government needs to go on a "diet". The important question all property taxpayers should be asking themselves is what would the local governments have done if the real estate market had not boomed and given them all that extra money to increase their budgets? Could they have survived? The answer is, "Of course they would have and they will again, despite their scare tactics."
In my opinion the Florida House of Representatives and the Florida Association of Counties have opposing and competing agendas when it comes to property tax relief. The Florida House and I want to cut your property taxes as much as possible while the Florida Association of Counties and other local governments want to oppose property tax cuts as much as possible. When you start hearing the scare tactics from your local governments how bad things will be once these tax cuts take effect, just ask them the following question: "How in the world did you get by with fewer taxes just a few years ago?" Do not fall for the rhetoric and do not fall for the scare tactics. You elected me partly on my promise of less property taxes and I stand by my promise. I will deliver lower property taxes to my constituents.