Ballot Initiative: Property Tax Exemptions on Homesteads for Teachers, Cops, Others, But at What Cost?

By Danielle J. Brown, Florida Phoenix

Florida voters could offer significant property tax exemptions to teachers, firefighters, serving members of the US military and other occupations specific to Florida, in a relatively hostile housing market.

But a well-intentioned tax exemption can lead to other complications, such as a loss of local government tax revenue, according to a tax watchdog group. What may seem like a simple ballot initiative could mean many layers, leaving Floridians puzzled over whether to support the measure or not.

Voters will head to the polls on November 8 on Constitutional Amendment No 3 – the property tax exemption on homesteads – although early voting and mail-in ballots have already been launched.

Amendment 3 is the result of a joint House resolution passed by the Florida Legislative Assembly in 2022. At least 60% of voters would need to approve the measure to win.

The amendment states:

“To propose an amendment to the State Constitution to authorize the Legislative Assembly, by general law, to grant an additional property tax exemption for nonschool levies of up to $50,000 of the assessed property value of properties owned by teachers, law enforcement officers, correctional officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, child protective service professionals, service members active members of the United States Armed Forces and members of the Florida National Guard. This amendment is effective January 1, 2023.”

According to an analysis by legislative staff, Florida homeowners already qualify for a property exemption of up to $25,000. And there’s an additional exemption, also up to $25,000, which “applies to property value between $50,000 and $75,000,” according to the analysis.

The League of Women Voters of Florida opposes the measure because it believes the Florida Constitution is not the place to determine tax policy.

“This proposal may have merit, but the League has a long-standing position that ‘no tax source or revenue should be specified, limited, exempted or prohibited in the Constitution,’ according to the organization’s website.

The website also notes that approving the amendment could result in lost revenue for local governments.

The staff analysis, which introduced Amendment 3 on the ballot, reports that beginning in fiscal year 2023-24, the tax exemption “would reduce $85.9 million in revenue from the local property tax for all levies other than school district levies”.

The Florida Education Association — the statewide teachers’ union whose constituency consists of Florida educators — does not take a position on Amendment 3 one way or another.

Florida TaxWatch, described as a nonpartisan, nonprofit taxpayer research institute and government watchdog, reiterates that the group supports the amendment, saying “the benefits of Amendment 3 outweigh away on the negative consequences of a tax change”.

According to TaxWatch’s 2022 Voter’s Guide: “A tax change is not a tax cut and, although that segment of the ‘specific essential public service workforce’ who is lucky owning your own home will benefit, the burden of additional taxes will be borne by everyone, with higher taxes for low-income homeowners and small businesses, and increased rents for renters (including members of the “specific essential public service workforce” who rent their homes).

TaxWatch also notes that property tax revenues help fund government services. If revenues fall, “cities, counties, and special districts may find it difficult to maintain important government services, such as law enforcement, fire departments, etc., without raising other taxes to offset the reduction”.

Some professions already receive property tax exemptions, depending on their circumstances, many of which go to disabled veterans, according to the legislative analysis.

First responders who have a permanent service-related disability are entitled to a “full property exemption.” Ditto for veterans who use wheelchairs due to a service-related disability.

Veterans who are “disabled to a degree of 10% or more by misfortune or during wartime service” can get an exemption for any property up to $5,000.

Counties and municipalities may provide additional homestead tax exemptions to Floridians age 65 or older with household incomes of $20,000 or less.

Florida Phoenix is part of States Newsroom, a network of news outlets supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity.

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