Budget negotiators OK water management district tax cuts sought by Scottby John Kennedy | May 1st, 2011
House and Senate budget negotiators agreed Sunday night to give Gov. Rick Scott one of his tax-cutting proposals — a roughly 25 percent reduction in water management district property taxes.
House budget chief Denise Grimsley, R-Sebring, advanced the offer — which was similar to an even deeper property tax cut and takeover of water management district budgets that had been pushed by her Senate counterpart, J.D. Alexander, R-Lake Wales.
Florida’s five water management districts collect over $1 billion in property taxes, with the South Florida Water Management District collecting $411 million, alone. But SFWMD’s collections would be capped at $285 million under the deal reached Sunday, roughly a $126 million reduction in the district’s dollars.
Alexander, a citrus grower whose district includes Okeechobee and Glades counties, has been pushing to more tightly restrict water management district spending for months. He’s said districts have been sitting on reserves that could be used to cover existing costs and make room for the property tax break.
The South Florida district has $346 million in reserves, according to Alexander.
Environmentalists have said they feared the tax-cut package could threaten Everglades restoration, whose final dollar level is still being negotiated. The Senate has proposed $20 million, and the House $25 million to continue the ambitious state-federal Everglades project.
The water districts tax cut drew resistence earlier this spring from the state House Select Committee on Water Policy, whose chairman, Rep. Trudi Williams, R-Fort Myers, is a former South Florida district governing board member.
She questioned whether the agency could carry out its flood control and maintenance responsibilities with a steep reduction in revenues. Because of slumping property-tax values across the region, tax revenue collected by the district has already dropped about $150 million, from $549 million in 2007-08.