State Mandates Tax Increase
By Michael Sittig
Prepare to be surprised.
The State budget signed by the Governor on Thursday, mandates that local property taxes go up, not down. Yes, property taxes were just increased by your State leaders. Yes, the same ones who returned this week to Tallahassee for the sole purpose of lowering your property taxes just raised them.
In the freshly minted state budget there is a requirement that the local property taxes used to pay for schools are to be increased by 7.44 percent. In so doing, the state was able to avoid paying nearly $550 million for schools. Instead of finding that money from their own $71 billion budget, which is in addition to the $7 billion in set aside for reserves, they passed the burden down to property owners and increased their local property taxes.
Many people may not realize that almost half of the property tax dollars we pay go to our local school board to fund K-12 education. Funding our schools, according to our state constitution, is "the paramount duty of the state" and as such, we would expect that the state would fund it. Instead of meeting this challenge of funding our schools, the state has been shifting the burden down to local governments and has been forcing the increase in local property taxes. For example, eight years ago, the state of Florida paid more than 60 percent of the total amount needed to fund local schools. But during that time the state began slowly shifting the burden down to local school boards. Today, the state pays less than half (45%) and requires that the rest comes from local property taxes. The net effect is that local property taxes go up to pay for schools.
Said a different way, during the same eight year period, the state has increased its share by less than a percent but have required local property taxes to nearly double to make up the difference. Every Legislator who voted for the State budget voted for this.
For the record, we understand and sympathize with the need to increase education funding. Costs of building schools, providing hurricane insurance, paying teachers, and even paying for the health care of school employees have all increased significantly. These are real costs to provide real services to real people. Great cities make for a Great State and you do not have Great cities without Great schools. You do not have Great schools without proper funding.
But, just like the school and state governments, city governments have also faced significant cost increases for the services we provide. Salaries and benefits for police and fire workers (even the new ones mandated by the State this year without funding), the costs of providing expanded water and sewer services, ambulances, homeless shelters, storm water holding ponds, to name just a few, have all escalated in their costs to build and operate. We all must recognize that cities must purchase expensive property insurance and expensive gas needed for fire trucks, garbage trucks, and police cars. We are working hard, and are finding even more cost-effective ways, to provide these needed services. In fact, most cities try to meet these rising costs without raising the State-designed property tax because it is so unfair. The past ten years show average annual growth of municipal spending was only 6.9 percent.
The point is; we all support a fair property tax and new homeowners and businesses really deserve relief, but how can state lawmakers mandate increases in local property taxes while at the same time issuing a clarion call for reductions? We would ask lawmakers; make the property tax fair and if they want to cut revenues to cities, they should also cut out the things they require us to do and cut out all the things they require us to pay for with the local property tax.
That would be fair and it would be sensible. It would also be surprising.
(Michael Sittig is the Executive Director of the Florida League of Cities.)
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