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The TaxWatch Research Blog is a forum where our research staff can address topics and issues in a short format. Keep an eye on this space during Legislative Session for frequent posts making sense of the activity at the Capitol. 

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2018 Voter Guide Wrap-Up: $1.5 Billion in Local Tax Referenda

On November 6, 2018, Floridians voted on 12 proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution. Eleven of the 12 passed with at least a 60 percent majority, all but Amendment 1, which would have provided an additional $25,000 homestead property tax exemption. But the amendments were not the only thing that voters had to agree on. In addition to the amendments, voters across Florida chose to put in place a number of local tax measures and new bond issues. 

This follow-up to the Florida TaxWatch Voter Guide details these local measures and provides an update on what's next for the 11 amendments that are now part of Florida's Constitution. 

Voters in many Florida counties were in a generous mood on November 6, 2018, voting in favor of $1.5 billion in county and school district sales and property tax increases. Voters in two counties and eight cities also approved $1.2 billion in local government bond issues, which will also result in increased property taxes. These tax increases include two separate sales tax hikes in Hillsborough County, which raised the tax from 7 percent to 8.5 percent, the highest sales tax rate in Florida. 

This somewhat surprising taxpayer largesse followed the primary election in August when 11 additional counties approved county-wide tax increases and voters in four special districts also voted to increases their taxes. These August tax increases totaled $335 million annually. 

Most of the county-wide tax increases are for schools, due in part to the state mandate for increased school security. In November, nine counties passed tax increases for schools—five raised the sales tax rate and four passed property tax hikes. Five more counties approved sales tax increases to fund transportation and other infrastructure needs. Alachua County approved a Children’s Trust with the authority to levy up to one-half mill in property taxes to fund services for children. 

In August, 10 school tax hikes were approved by voters (three sales tax and seven property tax increases). Union County voters approved a property tax increase to fund the county library. 

Prior to 2018, there were only six counties that did not levy a local option sales tax—the tax rate in those counties was only the 6 percent state rate. Voters in five of those counties approved a local option sales tax: Broward; Collier; Lee; Martin; and Okaloosa. This leaves Citrus County as the only county in Florida with a 6 percent sales tax. 

The voter fatigue expected by some—due to a lengthy state-wide ballot—did not materialize, even with more than 175 additional local referenda extending many ballots. No tax increase failed in November and only one bond issue (Cooper City) failed. Most passed easily—notable exceptions were sales tax referendums in Collier and Lee counties that got just over 50 percent yes votes. In August, only one county-wide tax proposal failed: 69 percent of Columbia County voters soundly defeated a one-cent sales tax for transportation. Of the 175 ballot questions covering a wide range of local ordinances and charter amendments, only 14 were defeated. 

Florida taxpayers have shown they are willing to pay more taxes if they feel the return will be worth it. They made a significant commitment to fund local government services—especially schools—in 2018. Most of the property tax levies will last four years. Most of the sales tax hikes last from seven to 10 years, but two of them last 30 years. By the time all the 2018 tax increases expire, Florida taxpayers (and tourists) will have paid close to $40 billion. 

Many of the tax referendums created a citizen oversight committee to monitor the spending of these new dollars. This is a great idea and taxpayers need to get involved. If your local government proposed a tax increase without such a committee, oversight is up to all of us. 

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