TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – Oct. 30, 2008 – Three recent home buyers who moved to Florida from other states will appeal a judge’s ruling that dismissed their challenge to property tax breaks offered by two state constitutional amendments, one of their lawyers said Tuesday.
Circuit Judge Charles Francis of Tallahassee rejected the suit Monday. It challenged the 1992 Save Our Homes Amendment, which caps yearly assessment increases at 3 percent for primary homes, and an amendment voters adopted in January.
The recent change lets homeowners take Save Our Homes benefits with them if they move, known as “portability.” The amendment also gives all primary homeowners a tax cut expected to average $240 and includes some breaks for businesses.
“This is the first round of a 10-rounder,” said Douglas Lyons, an attorney for the challengers. “We’re exploring some ways to go directly to the Florida Supreme Court.”
If that doesn’t work, the case next will go to the 1st District Court of Appeal.
It’s one of three similar lawsuits challenging one or both of the amendments.
Another Tallahassee judge last year dismissed the first lawsuit by three out-of-state residents who own second homes in Florida. It challenged the Save Our Homes Amendment, and an appeal is pending in the 1st District.
The third lawsuit also was filed by nonresidents who own Florida property, and it challenges both amendments. That case is pending in circuit court here.
Three Alabama residents argued in the first case that Save Our Homes unfairly has shifted the property tax burden from primary homes, known as homesteads, to all other types of real estate including their vacation homes in Destin.
Circuit Judge John C. Cooper rejected their argument that the amendment violates equal protection and right to travel provisions in the U.S. Constitution. It serves a legitimate public interest in promoting primary permanent homes, Cooper wrote. He also noted the Alabama residents could get the tax break by making their primary homes in Florida.
That’s what the recent home buyers did in the case decided Monday. They still argued their travel rights have been violated because longtime Florida residents get a bigger tax break than they do.
Francis, though, wrote that all residents who buy a home for the first time are treated the same way whether they were born and raised in Florida or just moved here.
He also echoed Cooper’s ruling by writing there’s a rational basis for treating new and older residents differently in the interest of “neighborhood preservation, continuity and stability.”