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Sea Level Rise Tax Break Gets Fla. Senate Backing

Flooding in Flagler County.
Flagler County Emergency Services
Flooding in Flagler County.

With less than three weeks left in the legislative session, a key Senate panel Wednesday supported providing a tax break to property owners who elevate homes to address potential flooding, part of a House plan to combat rising sea levels.

The Senate Finance and Tax Committee unanimously approved a proposal (SJR 1182), sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, that would ask voters in 2022 to approve a constitutional amendment to provide the property-tax break.

Sen. Ed Hooper, R-Clearwater, said the property appraiser in Pinellas County has been vocal about the need to assist residents who face potential impacts from rising sea levels.

“This is a win, and they need to win very badly in that arena,” Hooper said.

House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, endorsed the proposal in February when he introduced a wide-ranging climate change package.

The issue involves the assessed values of homes for tax purposes when they are elevated. Under the proposal, such improvements would not be considered in determining assessed values if the work meets National Flood Insurance Program and Florida Building Code elevation requirements.

The Senate proposal needs to clear the Appropriations Committee before it could go to the full Senate. The House version (HJR 1377) has cleared two committees and will go before the House State Affairs Committee on Thursday.

A Senate staff analysis said the proposed constitutional amendment, if passed, would reduce local government property-tax revenue by $5.8 million during the 2023-2024 fiscal year, with the amount growing to $25.1 million annually.

The proposed tax break is one of a series of efforts that Sprowls and other lawmakers have pursued during this year’s legislative session to address the effects of climate change. The session is scheduled to end April 30.

The House and Senate last week passed a bill (SB 1954) that calls for spending up to $100 million a year on projects and creates the “Resilient Florida Grant Program” in the Department of Environmental Protection. The program would set criteria for local governments to apply for funding assistance to address sea-level rise issues.

Environmental groups have voiced support for the measure while expressing hope that lawmakers will eventually also address sources of greenhouse gas emissions leading to climate change. The bill still needs approval from Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Another bill awaiting DeSantis’ approval (SB 2512) would divvy up more than $400 million in documentary-stamp tax dollars that in the past have been targeted toward what is known as the Sadowski Trust Fund for affordable housing. The bill would direct $200 million to affordable housing, with $111.7 million going to sea-level rise efforts and $111.7 million going to sewage treatment projects.