June 22, 2007

Tax cuts and adequate school funding

Florida Governor Charlie Crist has signed into law the statutory part of the proposed Florida property-tax reform and cut. The law that Crist signed is an immediate roll-back in non-school local property taxes. The next issue is a proposed constitutional amendment on the January 29 presidential primary ballot that would create a different structure for residential property taxes (essentially creating a progressive property tax) and effectively cut and limit tax rates permanently.

The statutory part of the plan does not directly affect schools, but there are plenty of related services that local governments currently provide out of the affected property taxes: police officers in school, mental health services, etc. The constitutional amendment would directly affect school funding from local property taxes, what the Florida Education Association has estimated as a $7.1 billion cut over five years. While legislative leaders have promised that the state will and has to make up any gap, many are skeptical of that promise.

Voters may not end up approving the constitutional amendment, since Florida now requires 60% approval for amendments, and the last property tax reform won with a majority under 55%. Reductions in county services between now and January may either convince voters to reject the amendment or may create a backlash that boosts the amendment (a "why was this cut the first choice you made" reaction). Or they may be irrelevant.

If the amendment passes, though, it may finally set up a viable adequate-funding lawsuit in the state. A 1998 amendment to the state constitution established education as the paramount duty of the state with a number of goals, and in its 2006 voucher decision, the state Supreme Court gave notice in dicta that the 1998 amendments raised the obligations of the state to a "maximum duty."

That amendment opened the door to an adequate-funding lawsuit, but no one has filed one... yet. If the legislature does not fill the gap created by a successful amendment in January, it will set up a lawsuit with very good chances, and it will provide a good motive for plenty of actors to file such a suit.

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Posted in Education policy on June 22, 2007 10:18 AM |