Palm Beach County reacts to House bill limiting local government taxes


A wide-ranging bill that would rein in local governments’ ability to increase taxes narrowly passed the Florida House Ways & Means Committee on Wednesday.

The committee approved the measure (PCB WMC 17-02) on a nearly party-line vote, 9-7, with Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-Treasure Island, joining all the committee Democrats in opposing the measure.

The bill would require local governments, except for school boards, to spend down money saved in some special funds before approving increases in property taxes.

“When you’re sitting down to do your budget for the next year and deciding what tax rate you need to levy, if your cash position as a local government is such that you could make the choice to spend the money you have in the bank instead of raising taxes, that is the choice we would like to see you do as a result of this bill,” said Rep. Matt Caldwell, a North Fort Myers Republican handling the legislation.

The proposal would also restrict cities and counties from passing local option taxes if they have approved property tax increases within the past three years. An increase in sales taxes for school construction would have to pass a school board with a four-fifths supermajority.

And the measure would require any local referendums raising taxes to gain 60 percent of the vote to pass. Such questions also would have to go before voters during general elections. Voters would also have to approve any moves by local governments to take on debt longer than five years.

Palm Beach County officials who met with legislators in Tallahassee this week urged them not to pass legislation that limits their authority.

“I haven’t had a chance to read the bill,” County Commissioner Mack Bernard, a Democrat who previously served in the House, said of PCB WMC 17-02. “But we don’t want any more unfunded mandates. We don’t want these types of bills in Tallahassee. Let the local municipalities make decisions for the constituents in their communities.”

Palm Beach County Mayor Paulette Burdick, also a Democrat, said, “I’ve been the one clamoring for some sort of benchmark for when we will reduce our (property tax rate). Most of the time when we see these sort of funky bills out of Tallahassee, they have one local government in mind and then they want to take local control away. Clearly, we have said over and over again, ‘Don’t pre-empt us from local decision-making. Who knows what the future holds?’”

West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio said that, while she was not familiar with the bill, “Anything that’s going to preempt a local government’s ability to do what it needs to do is not a good thing.”

“There’s a general direction in Tallahassee to try and preempt what happens at the local level,” she added. “I’m a strong home-rule person and believe that’s what the people of West Palm Beach want.”

Other critics of the bill contended the legislation was confusing and too restrictive on local governments.

Amber Hughes, a lobbyist for the Florida League of Cities, said different accounting methods among local governments might make it difficult to figure out the meaning of certain terms in the bill — like the excess fund balances that the legislation targets.

“When I send (a message) out to my finance officers and say, ‘Do you meet these thresholds?’ and they say, ‘We have no idea; we don’t even know how to calculate it’ — that’s concerning to me,” Hughes said.

Others zeroed in on the bill’s mandate that a supermajority of voters approve tax referendums.

“To start imposing 60 percent requirements to get anything done, I just think is anti-democratic,” said Rep. Joseph Geller, D-Aventura.

The bill comes amid a debate at the Capitol about the proper role of local governments. A measure that would severely restrict the authority of local governments to pass business regulations (HB 17) has already been approved by one of its two House committees.

Palm Beach Post staff writers Wayne Washington and Tony Doris contributed to this story.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Politics

CNN’s Tapper has emerged as a staunch defender of facts in Trump era. So why is he writing fiction?
CNN’s Tapper has emerged as a staunch defender of facts in Trump era. So why is he writing fiction?

Jake Tapper doesn’t seem to get rattled easily. He’s got a TV anchor’s unflappable poise and immovable hair, and radiates an almost eerie calm when a dozen explosive stories break during his daily CNN show. He’s weathered relentless online attacks from the right for his interrogations of Trump administration officials, and seemed...
Trump, en route to golf club, predicts Michael Cohen won’t ‘flip’
Trump, en route to golf club, predicts Michael Cohen won’t ‘flip’

President Donald Trump’s motorcade arrives at Trump International Golf Club in unincorporated West Palm Beach this morning. (Greg Lovett/The Palm Beach Post) Moments after he arrived at Trump International Golf Club in unincorporated West Palm Beach this morning, President Donald Trump blasted a New York...
Kris Kobach, once the face of Trump’s voter fraud panel, is held in contempt
Kris Kobach, once the face of Trump’s voter fraud panel, is held in contempt

Kris W. Kobach, the secretary of state of Kansas and face of the Trump administration’s efforts to clamp down on supposed voter fraud, was found by a federal judge on Wednesday to have disobeyed orders to notify thousands of Kansans in 2016 that they were registered to vote.  Kobach, who served last year as the vice chairman of the Trump...
Always a Palm Beach connection: Mar-a-Lago gets passing mention in Comey memos
Always a Palm Beach connection: Mar-a-Lago gets passing mention in Comey memos

View from the west of Mar-a-Lago during last month’s Palm Beach County GOP fundraiser there. (Bruce R. Bennett/The Palm Beach Post) President Donald Trump was tweeting from Mar-a-Lago late Thursday night and early this morning about fired FBI Director James Comey, his book tour and the release of 15 pages...
Across Midwest, farmers warn of GOP losses over Trump’s trade policy
Across Midwest, farmers warn of GOP losses over Trump’s trade policy

Here in the largest soybean-producing county in the country, a snowy winter has left North Dakota farmers like Robert Runck with time on their hands before spring planting — time they have spent stewing over how much they stand to lose if President Donald Trump starts a trade war with China.  “If he doesn’t understand what he&rsquo...
More Stories