By: Mitch Perry, Florida Phoenix
For years, Republican lawmakers in Tallahassee have boasted about Florida’s charms as a low-tax state, and according to a recent report, Sunshine State residents do have the lowest tax burden in the continental United States (trailing only Alaska nationwide.)
But with more than 21 million people in the state and hundreds more coming by the day, the math simply isn’t adding up when it comes to the state paying for critical services like public education and transportation.
How else to explain the fact that more than 15 counties in Florida have referendums on ballots either this month or in November to raise local taxes?
The overwhelming majority are for school districts in need of more capital or operating expenses.
There are a number of reasons why school district officials across the state say that they have been compelled to call on their citizenry to fork up an increase in sales or property taxes: Reduced construction money for traditional public schools (with much being sent to charter schools); restrictions in the amount of property taxes the districts are allowed to assess, and most recently, mandates that every Florida school have an armed officer following the February mass shooting in Parkland.
“The reason that all these referendums are on the ballot is because the school districts have been losing money since 2008,” says Tina McSoley, a school board member from Martin County. “Between testing, busing and security, we can’t sustain this system that’s been created for public schools.”
The need for funding is so great in Martin County, located on Florida’s Treasure Coast just north of Palm Beach, that registered voters will consider two separate tax items for education this year: On August 28 they will vote on a measure to raise property taxes by a half-mill (a mill is $1 for every $1,000 worth of taxable property) to go towards increasing security in schools and raising teacher pay. That will be followed on Nov. 6 by a ballot measure to increase the local sales tax by a half percent to pay for school construction needs.
Politically, the measures are no sure thing. A year ago, Martin County voters overwhelmingly rejected a one percent, 10-year sales tax referendum to pay for replacing and repairing local government infrastructure. McSoley fears that if Palm Beach County (which has a measure set for November that would provide more money for teacher salaries and campus safety) passes its measure and Martin doesn’t, there could be an exodus of teachers heading south on I-95 for greener pastures…