The state retains all taxing authority, meaning the Legislature sets all the rules when it comes to taxation.
For the most part, the home rule clause in the Florida Constitution has worked well since being codified in 1973. As Florida and its property values grew over the decades, city, county, school board and other local government budgets grew with them. Then came the 2007 housing crash.
Since then, local governmental entities, largely dependent on property taxes, have struggled to maintain the status quo as property values have declined, and local tax revenues with them. And any attempt to raise taxes — again, that generally means property taxes — has been understandably opposed not just because they are unpalatable but because they are perceived as unfair.
The Legislature needs to change the rules, and we can cite two Marion County examples as to why.
The two recent unsuccessful school tax referendums and the upcoming Munroe hospital tax referendum are both property taxes issues. Proponents, even some opponents, of the taxes have consistently suggested that selling new taxes would be easier if they were sales taxes, the burden of which would be shared by all.
The problem is, while Florida has laws allowing local option sales taxes for cities, counties, schools and hospitals, there are severe restrictions on where they can be implemented and for what purposes.
Take the recent school taxes. State law allows for a local option sales tax for schools, but it can only be used for “capital outlay,” or construction, land acquisition, renovations and repairs, transportation or technology.
Our schools need money for more than those things. They need to be able to keep music and art in our schools and libraries open. They need after-school and summer enrichment programs for struggling students and those who have fallen behind.
So the local option sales tax does not help Marion County’s schools in this instance.
As for the Munroe tax, the Legislature has so many restrictions on a hospital sales tax that it would be both insufficient to meet Munroe’s core needs — expansion and updating facilities — and inappropriate since Marion County does not meet populations stipulations.
Again, a sales tax would be an easier sell to the citizenry, if state law allowed local governmental entities the flexibility to use the money for local priorities, not those set by Tallahassee.
Local option sales taxes require a public vote, and the wording on the ballot has to explicitly outline what the money will be used for. We are all for those things. Let the people decide.
In keeping with Florida’s fundamental philosophy of home rule — and given the extraordinary economic circumstances so many local governmental entities are facing — the Legislature should loosen up the rules surrounding local option sales taxes. All we are asking is to let local citizens and their local governments decide how much they should be taxed — or not — and how their local sales tax dollars should be spent. All we are asking is for real home rule.