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Amendment Two: A Tax Break for Overseas Troops

October 12, 2010 | FPR - Amendment Two would give a property tax break to Florida's active duty troops serving overseas. The amendment is sponsored by the state legislature but the real momentum came from a Central Florida soldier fighting in the most notoriously dangerous regions of Afghanistan.

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Four years ago, Michael Waldrop was leading missions in the dangerous Helmand and Kandahar provinces as an infantry captain in the US Army.  At the same time back home, his wife got their 2007 property tax bill.

“Property tax rates were climbing fast and I certainly witnessed fellow soldiers and counterparts that struggled to make ends meet. “ Waldrop said, “This was just one more burden that they had to pay as far as a tax to a home that they weren’t even residing in.” 

In between patrols, Waldrop e-mailed state legislators, appealing to them to provide a tax break on homes owned by active duty soldiers.  After returning to his own home in Orlando, Waldrop reached out to State Representative Mike Horner of Kissimmee.  Representative Horner decided to champion the measure in the Florida House.

 “As a former soldier in the National Guard,” Horner said, “I just felt it was really important that our men and women in uniform, when they are in harm’s way, they shouldn’t be worried about whether or not they’re going to get to keep their home.

Amendment 2 would give soldiers a property tax break based on the amount of time spent on active duty in the previous year.  So a soldier on an overseas mission for an entire year who owned a $200.000 home, would get a $2000 tax break.  Representative Horner says the amendment would give soldiers one less thing to worry about.

 “They need to be focused on the mission at hand and giving them a break in their property taxes when they’re deployed in a combat mission just made sense.” Horner said.

Florida has more than 25,000 active duty soldiers who would be eligible for the tax break, but it would only go to those who own homes.  Florida’s Legislative Office of Economic and Demographic Research estimates the amendment would cost Florida counties about 13 million dollars in lost property tax revenue.  Whether or not it would have a greater impact on counties with military bases has not been studied.

The measure was first introduced as a bill in 2007 by then state Representative Andy Gardiner.  But it died in legislative committee. Two years later, it returned to the floor as a proposed constitutional amendment. Army Captain Waldrop says the vote came down to the wire.

 “My wife and I took a trip to Tallahassee to try to witness, hopefully it being heard, and Senator Gardiner noticed us in the reception area and motioned down to senate President Jeff Atwater.”  Waldrop said, “Senate President Atwater stopped everything that they were doing and heard the issue and they passed it unanimously.”

The League of Women Voters of Florida opposes Amendment 2.  The group says the fine print of the tax system belongs in a bill, not enshrined in the constitution.  League President Deirdre Macnab says Amendment Two is lazy law making.

 “The appropriate way to do that is in the legislature,” Mcnab says, “rather than putting a ballot amendment in front of the citizens and ingraining it in the constitution.”

Michael Waldrop counters “They don’t understand how the constitution is laid out and any property tax issues must be brought forth to the state constitution.  This is a state constitution issue.”

Waldrop’s  wife Marnie says the tax break would provide a financial reprieve for struggling military families.

 “We’re hoping we’ll also help with the suicide rates, the divorce rates and we really want to see these families stay together and make it through the adjustment.”

To help with that adjustment of soldiers returning to their families, the Waldrops started the non-profit Camaraderie Foundation.  Michael Waldrop says his own children were one and three years old when his tour began.

 “When I returned they were three and five respectively.” Waldrop said, “It took them a long time to adjust to the fact that daddy’s back home.  And it took me a while to adjust and it took my wife a while to adjust and this is not unique to us.”

While active duty military enjoy Federal tax benefits, if Amendment two passes, Florida would become the first state to provide a property tax break to active duty soldiers. 

PROGRAM NOTE:

Tune in to 90.7 WMFE-FM Wednesday morning at 6:35 and 8:35 to learn about Amendment Three, which would allow citizens to vote on changes to local land use plans.  

 

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