The TaxWatch Research Blog

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. 

2020 Voter Guide Special Edition: Local Tax Referenda

On November 3, 2020, Floridians will go to the polls (or vote by mail) to participate in a very important election.  In addition to electing the next President of the United States, voters will decide other federal, state and local races, as well as consider six proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution.

As if that were not enough, voters across the state will determine the fate of scores of local referenda and amendments to city and county charters.  Many of these ballot questions have significant fiscal implications for Florida taxpayers.  Voters will consider authorizing more than $360 million annually in local tax increases. This includes:

Local Option Sales Taxes – Nine counties are proposing to enact or extend ten local sales tax levies worth more than $250 million annually.  Continuing a recent trend, education is a priority and five of these are for school capital outlay (construction) needs.  Three others are for other infrastructure needs in the counties, and two would fund fire and rescue services.

Property Taxes – Seven counties are proposing new ad valorem levies totaling $112 million annually.  These would fund school programs and teacher salaries, land acquisition and other environmental proposals, children’s services, and fire services.

Fire District Assessments – Two local fire districts propose significant increases in the assessments property owners pay, and Navarra Beach is looking to create a new district. Another district is asking residents if they support the use of impact fees to fund fire services.

There is also a proposal for a new tourist development tax, $200 million in proposed bond issues, and several major spending issues.

It’s not all about asking taxpayers for more money.  Seven county commissions and four municipal governing bodies are asking for the authority to grant property tax exemptions to new and expanding businesses that are expected to create new, full-time jobs.  

Local ballots also contain at least 150 charter amendments (and one adoption of a new charter). There are also straw polls to gauge voter support for emerging proposals—such as the consolidation of Columbia County and Lake City governments.  

Florida taxpayers have shown they are willing to pay more taxes if they feel the return will be worth it. Voters made a significant commitment to fund local government services—especially schools—in the 2018 primary and general elections when they approved 26 county-wide tax increases worth $1.5 billion, four special district tax hikes and $1.2 billion in new bond issues.

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. Florida TaxWatch has been involved with one such committee—the Broward County Bond Oversight Committee created for a $800 million bonds issue in 2014—and has released quarterly reports and presented our findings to the Committee.  If your local government has proposed a tax increase without such a committee, oversight is up to all of us.

Only one of the 27 county-wide tax increase referendums considered in 2018 failed and most passed easily.  It remains to be seen how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected voters’ appetite for tax increases.

After the election, Florida TaxWatch will issue a 2020 Wrap-Up that will detail the fate of these local referenda and the six proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution.

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