State rep questions Florida property tax cap
Championing the cause of Massachusetts residents with second homes in Florida who pay higher property taxes than residents there, Rep. Eric Turkington (D-Cape and Islands) recently wrote state Attorney General Martha Coakley urging her to join other states' attorneys general in supporting a class action lawsuit protesting tax discrimination against out-of-state property owners in Florida.
The lawsuit, Lanning et al v. Pilcher et al., questions the constitutionality of a "Save Our Homes Amendment" (SOHA) to the Florida constitution passed by voters in 1992, according to a recent press release from Mr. Turkington's office. The SOHA caps the annual assessment on a property owned by a Florida resident at either 3 percent of the assessment for the prior year or the percent increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI).
As the law stands, someone who buys a second home in Florida has to pay property taxes as much as three times higher than a Florida resident who qualifies for the tax cap, according to a Jan. 27 article in the Miami Herald.
In Mr. Turkington's press release, he said that although the class-action lawsuit was filed in Florida on behalf of Georgia residents, he petitioned Attorney General Coakley to file an amicus curia ("friend of the court") brief on behalf of all the residents in Massachusetts who own property in Florida.
"I sent a letter to the attorney general pointing out we have a lot of people in Massachusetts who are affected by this 'Save Our Homes' language in Florida, which makes our people pay a lot more taxes than their residents do on the same properties," Mr. Turkington said in a phone call last week.
"Obviously we don't do this in Massachusetts, and I don't think they should do it in Florida, either," he added. The tax situation also acts as an incentive for Massachusetts residents to make Florida their primary residence.
Mr. Turkington believes the class-action lawsuit is the only avenue to remedy the tax discrimination. It would take a 60-percent majority vote on the state ballot to repeal the SOHA, which is supported by the vast majority of Florida residents who benefit from it, he explained. The only recourse for non-Florida property owners seeking equal taxation is through the class-action lawsuit asking that the SOHA be declared unconstitutional.
Mr. Turkington said that a complaint from a constituent prompted him to take up the Florida property tax discrimination matter with Attorney General Coakley, because many of his Barnstable County, Dukes County, and Nantucket District constituents are second homeowners in Florida. When asked if he owns a home in Florida, Mr. Turkington said yes, but reiterated that it was a constituent that brought the tax inequity to his attention. Mr. Turkington declined to say how long he has owned his Florida home. "That's neither here nor there," he said.
Mr. Turkington said he does not consider Florida's tax assessment cap for residents as similar to the residential exemption granted to taxpayers meeting specific residency requirements in 13 Massachusetts towns - including Barnstable, Tisbury, and Nantucket, which are in his district. "The SOHA has some similarities with the 20 percent piece, but not a great deal," he said.
The Massachusetts residential exemption reduces the taxable valuation of a taxpayer's primary residence by up to 20 percent of the average home value in the town. According to the Massachusetts Department of Revenue, granting the exemption raises the residential tax rate and shifts the residential tax burden from low and moderately valued homes to apartments and higher valued homes.
"I believe the Florida situation is if you live in the state, you get treated one way, and if you're from out of the state, another way. That's not the case with the Tisbury situation."
Tisbury voted to establish a residential exemption in 1988, which is given to town residents who qualify by filing an application and copies of documents showing proof of their residency. Last December the selectmen approved continuing the residential tax exemption at 20 percent.
In discussions about the exemption before their vote, the selectmen said they feel it helps year-round residents cope with the high cost of living on the Island.
When told that the Tisbury selectmen said they are in favor of a residential exemption as a way to help reduce the Island's high cost of living for year-round residents by shifting some of their tax burden to seasonal residents, Mr. Turkington said he agreed with them.
"It's a modest cost shift to people who by definition have the ability to pay it," he said. "So I wouldn't argue with them for a minute, although I'm sure second homeowners will."