Property tax breaks supported for police, teachers, military

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida House on Thursday unanimously passed a proposal that would ask voters to increase homestead property-tax exemptions for first responders, teachers and military members, with the issue expected to go before a key Senate committee Monday.

The proposal has been a priority of House Speaker Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican who has pointed to the potential property-tax reductions as being more beneficial to Floridians than Gov. Ron DeSantis’ request to suspend state gasoline taxes for five months.

If approved by voters in November, the proposed constitutional amendment (HJR 1) would be projected to save $80.9 million for the targeted property owners next fiscal year, with the annual savings growing to $93.6 million in five years. House members also passed an accompanying bill (HB 1563).

Sponsor Josie Tomkow, R-Polk City, said the proposal is “targeted relief” to first responders and other Floridians who have jobs that people rely on daily. It would apply to classroom teachers, law enforcement officers, correctional officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, child-welfare services professionals, active-duty military members and Florida National Guard members.

The proposal is expected to be considered Monday by the Senate Appropriations Committee, according to a Senate calendar.

Sprowls touted the homestead proposal while noting that DeSantis’ gas-tax proposal would end up providing tax breaks to many out-of-state visitors. The House did not include DeSantis’ proposal in a broad tax package (HB 7071) that will be the subject of negotiations with the Senate.

“I think that our best estimate is hundreds of millions of dollars of that gas tax (break) would go to people who don’t live in the state,” Sprowls told reporters on Feb. 10. “You take, for example, HJR 1, which is a homestead exemption that applies to police officers, firefighters, first responders, child protection investigators, active-duty military, that’s something that obviously applies not only to Floridians but to people we need to live and work, you know, close to our community. So that’s a priority of the House. And that’s what we’re focused on.”

The Florida Association of Counties has expressed concerns the proposal would shift more of the tax burden to renters and businesses.

Under current law, homeowners can qualify for homestead tax exemptions on the first $25,000 of the appraised value of property. They also can qualify for $25,000 homestead exemptions on the value between $50,000 and $75,000. Any higher property value is taxable.

Under the proposal, homeowners in the targeted professions could receive an additional $50,000 exemption, which would apply to the property value between $100,000 and $150,000.

The current exemption for the value between $50,000 and $75,000 doesn’t apply to property taxes collected for school districts, and neither would Tomkow’s proposal.