Wednesday, May 09, 2007

While Legislature fiddles around...

While State Legislature fiddles around, Floridians burn

People are starting to realize that easy promises won't necessarily be as easily fulfilled.

While State Legislature fiddles around, Floridians burn
Published May 6, 2007
TALLAHASSEE · Lower property taxes are on the way.
How do I know this? Because somebody hung a big sign in front of the lectern where our state's illustrious leaders spoke after the Legislature wrapped its regular session Friday afternoon.
The sign said: "Lower Property Taxes Are On The Way."
The sign also had a big arrow on it, pointing down, just to show how serious they were.
Beautiful. So now we know what became of the people who made the "Mission Accomplished" banner.
After the leaders congratulated themselves for a "phenomenal" session in which they did nothing about property taxes, they pledged to do something about property taxes very soon, at the special session June 12-22.
Then off they went to Happy Hour, backslapping and smiling all the way.
This didn't impress some people back home.
"All they do is talk," said Dolores Parachini, of Boca Raton. "There's no action."
"Last year they said they were funding a study," said Jim Demarest, a real estate agent from Fort Lauderdale. "I figured, OK, take your time, then come back and make something work. But now they've come back and said we need more time? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me."
The Legislature's performance gets them the silver medal in the Dunderhead Politicians of the Week event. Gold medal goes to the Hallandale Beach City Commission, for sneakily voting themselves a more-than-triple pay raise, to $75,000, before rescinding the move on Friday.
In the overall scheme of things, an extra six weeks to fix a broken and unfair property tax system isn't unreasonable.
The problem is there's no guarantee legislators will come up with a solution.
The other problem is that Florida's property tax system is just one of many wobbly legs on a teetering economic table.
The property insurance system that the Legislature allegedly fixed at a special session in January remains a mess, with homeowners still getting socked with big increases and cancellations.
Throw in higher rates for our dwindling water supply, higher gas prices and now possibly higher tuition rates at state colleges, and you've got a middle class on the brink of financial ruin.
"I came to Florida my whole life on vacation, and I couldn't wait to move here," said Parachini, who moved from Nutley, N.J., to South Florida four years ago. "Now it's become a place for millionaires."
Parachini moved to a condo in Boca Raton two years ago. She's been trying to sell her place the last four months. She has had no offers.
"My insurance has doubled the last two years," she said. "In New Jersey, the taxes on my house were high [$7,000] but I only paid $700 a year in insurance. Now it's costing me more to live here, and I only have a small villa."
As real estate values soared in the last five years, the property tax system has walloped recent home buyers and those with commercial, rental and vacation properties. It has also chilled families and seniors from moving into bigger or smaller homes because of the tax consequences.
The Legislature has been exploring ways to revamp the system, including creating new exemptions, expanding caps on assessment increases to all property owners, rolling back the amount local governments can collect, allowing full-time residents to carry tax breaks with them when they move and increasing sales taxes to replace lost property taxes.
Demarest is frustrated that the politicians couldn't reach a compromise sooner.
"It's not like this is a topic that came up at the last minute," said Demarest.
Before the session, Gov. Charlie Crist promised that property taxes would "drop like a rock."
On Friday, Senate President Ken Pruitt held up a rock. "It says patience on it," Pruitt said.
If this doesn't get settled soon, the only thing dropping like a rock will be their poll numbers. And Floridians will keep voting with their feet, straight out of the state.
Michael Mayo's column runs Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. Read him online every weekday at Reach him at or 954-356-4508.

Henry B. Nathan is a realtor in South Florida.

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