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Jacksonville lawmaker pushes bigger Homestead exemption — but with a catch

Lindsey Kilbride

A pair of Florida Republicans, one from the Jacksonville area, want to expand the homestead tax exemption for Florida homeowners while taking future changes out of the hands of voters.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg and state Rep. Jason Fischer of Mandarin, both Republicans, filed twin resolutions last week that would ask voters whether to change the state's homestead exemption for property taxes and add an amendment to the Florida Constitution.

In a joint release, the two portrayed their legislation as continuing Florida's "commitment to economic freedom."

"Now more than ever, Floridians need be able to hold onto their hard-earned money," Fischer said in a news release.

Florida's homestead tax exemption is a statewide $50,000 tax relief tied to property value. Currently, a $25,000 dollar exemption is applied to the value of your property, including complete tax exemption from school board and municipal taxes.

You are then eligible for a second exemption of another $25,000 — not including school taxes this time — starting partially at a property value of $50,000, with full access to the second exemption with a property value of $75,000.

Homeowners with a property value between $25,000 and $50,000 do not have access to the second exemption.

Here's an example of how this works: A $45,000 home would get only $20,000 of its value taxed. A $65,000 home, because it is within the second exemption bracket, would not be taxed at all on the first $25,000 of value, get taxed fully on the next $25,000 of value, and then pay only taxes levied by the school board for the remaining $15,000 of assessed value.

The two lawmaker's resolutions differ slightly. Fischer's would remove the exemption gap, allowing Florida homeowners immediate access to the second exemption without needing to pass the $50,000 property value mark. That means someone with a property assessed at $40,000 would have the first $25,000 exempt from all taxes and the remaining $15,000 immune from property taxes.

While this is an expansion of the homestead exemption, it's not a massive one.

Duval County Property Appraiser Jerry Holland is tasked with helping Jacksonville residents determine their property values and what exemptions they qualify for, including the homestead exemption.

"Values between $25,000 and $50,000, there's not a lot of homes in that category, but there are some," Holland said. "We haven't calculated the fiscal impact it would be to Duval County, but I don't believe it would be significant at this time to the taxing districts."

Brandes' bill in the Senate would keep the gap, allowing "up to $25,000 on the assessed valuation greater than $50,000" but would eliminate the $75,000 cap, for the purpose of future exemption increases.

The greater change — and potentially more worrying, according to Holland — would authorize the state's Legislature to increase the exemption in the future without the input of voters.

Because of the exemption's presence in the state Constitution, most changes to it, like all changes to the state's Constitution, must go before Florida voters and receive 60% support to pass.

Two such amendments passed in 2020, one allowing the widows of deceased veterans to gain their spouse's homestead tax discount and a second that increased the amount of time homeowners had to shift an additional tax benefit to a new property.

The Florida Revenue Estimating Conference estimated the changes would reduce local property taxes by $1.8 million this fiscal year and eventually by over $10 million annually.

"A lot of people don't realize if homes were actually taxed at the full market value, for example, in Duval County, it would actually generate about an additional $220 million," Holland said.

"But all exemptions, it really takes off about $19 billion in value from the tax rolls, so, taxing districts get really concerned with exemptions, because obviously their budgets are stable to a certain point and when you add exemptions, they have to account for how they're going to make up the difference."

A 2018 constitutional amendment that would have added a third $25,000 exemption for homes worth more than $100,000 narrowly failed. It fell less than 2 percentage points short of reaching the 60% supermajority needed.

Fischer and Brandes' resolution, which would also need to reach 60% on the ballot next year if passed by the Legislature, would remove the requirement and "authorize the legislature to periodically increase" the homestead exemption without running it by voters first.

"It does seem like it would be easier to increase exemption if it was just by general law," Holland said. "Now where individual cities and counties may be concerned is that maybe they don't feel like they can afford the additional exemption, maybe they want the right to lobby with voters."

The proposal from the two lawmakers is not the only piece of legislation the pair have introduced that can affect the tax base. A trailer bill, to go in effect if their constitutional amendment passes, would tie the homestead exemption to the House Price Index for Florida, except in cases where that would cause the amount that would be tax-free to decrease, meaning the exemption for homeowners could only increase in the future, without voter input.

Fischer also introduced a bill that would increase the discount taxpayers get for filing early, capped at 6% for those who file in November, another change Holland says will affect the bottom line of taxing districts trying to pay for public services.

Reporter Raymon Troncoso joined WJCT News in June of 2021 after concluding his fellowship with Report For America, where he was embedded with Capitol News Illinois covering Illinois state government with a focus on policy and equity. You can reach him at (904) 358-6319 or and follow him on Twitter @RayTroncoso.