The last two state amendments on Florida’s November ballot alter property tax law.
Amendments 5 and 6 differ from the other amendments on November’s ballot because they were proposed and unanimously passed by the Florida Legislature. Amendment 5 extends a deadline from two to three years, and Amendment 6 allows veterans’ spouses to keep a property tax discount.
Now, voters will decide if the amendments become law, along with Amendments 1-4, which were put on the ballot by each obtaining over 766,000 signatures from Florida residents.
Amendment 5 proposes to extend the deadline to transfer portability from the homestead exemption from a previous home to a new home. The homestead exemption is how Florida homeowners can cap their home’s assessed value, the value of a home used for tax purposes, to increase, at most, 3% per year.
Portability is the difference between a home’s assessed value with the exemption and the market value per year. The state allows homeowners to transfer portability to a new home within two years, and the amendment proposes extending that window to three.
To be eligible for Florida’s homestead exemption, a homeowner must both own and permanently reside in the home. Permanent resident eligibility is done on a per-case basis, said Jeff Boyd, the Alachua County Property Appraiser public information coordinator.
Passing the amendment could allow Alachua County residents to pay less in property taxes when buying a new home, Boyd said. Being able to move portability to a new home allows for the new homeowner to lower the home’s assessed value, which in turn leads to lower property taxes.
Extending the deadline for an extra year will reduce local tax receipts, according to a budget analysis done by the Revenue Estimating Conference. If passed, the amendment would lower local property taxes by $1.8 million next year, eventually growing to an annual reduction of $10.2 million.
Amendment 6 proposes allowing a homestead property tax discount to be transferred to the surviving spouse of a deceased veteran. Sam Killebrew, a Florida State representative, is sponsoring the amendment. Killebrew said veterans who are 65 or older and became permanently disabled during combat currently have a discount on their homestead property tax in proportion to the amount of disability payment they receive. However, when a veteran dies, their spouse cannot continue taking the discount.
If passed, Amendment 6 would change that.
Killebrew said he was approached by a representative when he was presenting the amendment to be passed, and heard a personal story from him. The representative told him after his uncle died, his aunt was left with no discount. It was $300-$400 more in taxes for her and she had to get help from family to afford it.
Killebrew said that the real life situation showed him how important the amendment was.
“The minute I read it to three committees and the house floor, there were no questions, and it was a 100% yay,” Killebrew said. “There was no negative vote on it.”.
Florida has a large veteran population with about 1.5 million veterans currently residing in the state, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Killebrew said the discount the veterans and spouses get depends on tax and millage rates, which are about $1 for every $1000 spent in home value for each county.
Some Florida statutes allow spouses to obtain a partial discount from their spouse, but there was nothing specific to combat veterans, Killebrew said. It’s why he felt it was necessary to implement the amendment.
Lynn Frazier, President of the League of Women Voters of Alachua County, said the league does not support Amendments 5 or 6.
The league opposes Amendment 5 because it adds tax laws into the constitution, which could become difficult to change in emergency situations, such as pandemics.
The Alachua County Democratic Party endorsed the amendment in its voting guide.
The league also opposes Amendment 6 for the same reason, because it affects the ability of local government to control budget and finding.
A Florida House bill analysis said Amendment 6 would cost local governments about $4 million annually if fully enacted, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
Frazier said the consequences of Amendment 6 could be decreased funding for schools and other community projects and funding.
“I don’t think anybody is against the spousal benefit, as long as it doesn’t change the tax law to put it into the Florida constitution and take it out of local control,” Frazier said.
Killebrew said the lost revenue is only an estimate, and at the worst case each county and city in Florida could lose $8,368 a year in taxes. He said he thinks that money is better off staying with the widowed spouse.
Anna Wilder is a second-year journalism major and the criminal justice reporter. She's from Melbourne, Florida, and she enjoys being outdoors or playing the viola when she's not writing.
Steven Walker is the Fall 2021 Editor in Chief of The Alligator. He has previously worked at the Orlando Sentinel; and has bylines in the Miami Herald, Associated Press and Florida Times Union. In his free time, he likes to take long walks with his dog Luna and watch his favorite sports teams, the Orlando Magic and the Green Bay Packers.