Senate-House property tax war looms for Florida education budget

The House and Senate made opening bids Tuesday on boosting public-school spending, with the Senate unveiling a proposal to increase per-student funding by roughly 10 times what the House is offering.

But the upper chamber’s heftier increase is built in large part on allowing local property taxes to increase with property values, something that is a non-starter for the House and could become a major sticking point as lawmakers attempt to wrap up the annual legislative session by its scheduled May 5 conclusion.

The proposal from Sen. David Simmons, an Altamonte Springs Republican who chairs the Senate’s education budget-writing subcommittee, would boost per-student spending by 2.9 percent, or almost $210 a head, in the budget year that will begin July 1. But about $191 of that would come from local property taxes, which are part of the state’s school-funding formula.

Meeting with his subcommittee Tuesday morning, and perhaps anticipating the House’s reaction, Simmons brushed away criticisms that accounting for the increased property values’ effect on taxes amounted to a hike. He pointed out that the tax rate would not change.

“We’ve kept that at the same (level) and believe that keeping the millage rate the same is not a tax increase,” Simmons said.

In building the budget for the current spending year, which ends June 30, lawmakers lowered the state’s portion of the property tax rate for schools to essentially offset any increase in property values for education. Gov. Rick Scott and others touted the change as a tax cut, because the tax rate fell, although it kept the actual taxes collected at the same amount.

House leaders have repeatedly said this year that…

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