Legislators in favor of Amendment 3 tout it as a lifeline for Floridians struggling in a volatile housing market, but those against it say the measure wouldn’t do enough.
If passed, the amendment would increase the homestead exemption for K-12 teachers, police officers, correctional officers, firefighters, emergency-medical technicians, paramedics, child-welfare services professionals, and active-duty members of the military and Florida National Guard. Homeowners currently qualify for $25,000 exemptions on their primary residences, but this proposal could increase the exemption by another $50,000.
The amendment’s author, Rep. Josie Tomkow, R-Polk City, said she pushed for tax breaks for critical public workers because home values and property taxes are on the rise.
“They shouldn’t worry about whether they have a home to return to while they are out protecting ours,” Tomkow said.
Sen. Bobby Powell, D-West Palm Beach, was the only legislator to vote against the ballot initiative.
“I don’t think that us putting another homestead exemption on the ballot alleviates or helps with the situation that we’re currently facing,” Powell said during a Senate hearing in March. “I am of the belief that the priority at this point should be to figure out how we can get police and firefighters and teachers into a home, whether it be first-time homebuyers, whatever it be. We need to figure out how to get them into homes.”
Powell is not alone in his opposition. The Florida League of Women Voters, and the Palm Beach Post and Tampa Bay Times editorial boards are also against the amendment.
But law-enforcement advocacy groups, some county Democratic Executive Committees — including Volusia and Duval counties — and the Florida Realtors Association are in favor of the proposal.
“With affordability climbing further out of reach in the state, it’s become extremely challenging for the men and women who serve our communities to live in the areas where they serve,” Christina Pappas, president of Florida Realtors, said in a press release. “Amendment 3 will help by providing much-needed property tax relief to hometown heroes in our state.”
Cherrie Hughes is the vice chair for the public policy committee of the Gainesville-Alachua County Association of Realtors. She said this amendment gives people a way to help essential workers who didn’t slow down during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What we hope will happen is that it will move to incentivize those who serve our communities to remain in Florida,” Hughes said. “And that’s really important to us.”
Sheila Payne, housing coordinator for the Alachua County Labor Coalition, said the amendment has good intentions but misses the mark in helping select groups of state employees.
“All the teachers I know work either a second job or work all summer at another job,” Payne said. “That money should have been given to them as a raise and let them decide because a lot of them are not homeowners.”
Payne said renters are the largest group left out with this amendment. But first-time homebuyers and schools’ support staff won’t see any benefits either.
“It just sounds good. And everyone’s gonna vote yes, because they all love their firefighters and school teachers, and so do I,” Payne said. “But it’s not really going to help them if they can’t afford to buy a house.”
Opposition to the proposal also cites the heavy toll this would take on county government budgets. The amendment would cut local property tax revenue by nearly $86 million, according to the Florida Revenue Estimating Conference.
And Florida taxpayers would foot the bill for fiscally constrained counties, designated as counties where one mill of property tax doesn’t exceed $5 million in revenue.
The amendment is paired with HB 1563, a bill that will go into effect next year if the amendment passes and will require the Legislature to appropriate about $3.8 million to fiscally constrained counties.