Steve Wells 1

Steven Wells

This November, Florida voters will decide on Amendment 1, a proposal to limit taxes on coastal properties expected to be threatened by rising seas over the next few decades.

The amendment would prevent local governments from factoring future sea level rise into property appraisals for tax purposes until 2029. Supporters argue it will provide needed tax relief to coastal homeowners who would otherwise see their property values, and thus property taxes, decline due to climate change impacts. Opponents counter that it will make responding to climate change more difficult and reduce funding for affordable housing.

The debate surrounding Amendment 1 highlights the policy challenges coastal regions across the U.S. face as climate change threatens both property values and public revenues. How Florida votes could influence similar measures in other states facing long-term coastal erosion and flooding.

Details of Amendment 1

Purpose and Intent

Amendment 1 is focused squarely on limiting property taxes on Florida’s coastline as sea levels rise.

Current state law says property appraisers can consider flooding and erosion risks 30 years into the future when valuing homes and land for tax purposes. Amendment 1 proposes prohibiting local governments from factoring in climate impacts further out than 10 years when assessing property values.

The goal is to protect coastal homeowners from sharp tax increases over the next decade that could occur if appraisers start marking down vulnerable properties today based on flooding risks expected in 2050 and beyond.

Wording on the Ballot

The language Florida voters will see reads:

“Limits assessment increases for specified nonhomestead real property, except for school district taxes, to 3% per year and provides for adjustment to assessment increases after change of ownership; existing homestead exemptions may transfer to newly purchased homestead.”

The key phrase is “limits assessment increases…to 3% per year.” This caps how much local governments can raise property value assessments, and thus property taxes, each year on non-homesteaded land. Homesteaded land already has a 3% assessment cap.

What It Would Do If Passed

Passing Amendment 1 would:

  • Prohibit factoring in climate change impacts on property values until 2029, instead of the 30 years currently allowed
  • Lock in place the 3% annual cap on increasing assessments for all properties, residential and nonresidential
  • Allow accrued Save Our Homes tax benefits to fully transfer to a buyer when homesteaded property is sold. Currently only part of the benefit transfers.
See also  Brian Telander

In essence, it prevents tax hikes on vulnerable coastal properties in the near term. But it means foregoing tax revenues local governments otherwise would have collected on properties appraised based on long-term sea rise projections.

Arguments in Favor

Proponents and Supporters

The driving force behind Amendment 1 is the Florida Coastal Property Alliance, a non-profit focused on private property rights. Other supporters include Florida Realtors, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and Americans for Prosperity Florida.

Many Republican lawmakers also endorse it, including Governor Ron DeSantis who said it will provide continuity for property owners. The Florida GOP voted to formally back the amendment.

Reasons to Vote Yes

Prevents “climate gentrification.” Supporters say limiting property taxes is necessary to stop pricing middle- and low-income residents out of coastal areas as waterfront homes get devalued by climate change. Rising seas shouldn’t force people who have lived near the water for decades to suddenly face unaffordable tax bills.

Protects coastal businesses. Amendment 1 backers argue it will help small businesses on the coast already struggling from the pandemic and inflation. Limiting taxes prevents further financial strain.

More accurately reflects flood risks. The amendment’s supporters contend that appraising property values 30 years out based on flooding projections is too speculative. Limiting the outlook to 10 years allows for a more reasonable assessment.

Gives homeowners time to adapt. Proponents say the amendment’s 10-year timeframe allows coastal residents a reasonable window to implement adaptation measures like elevating their homes and make decisions about relocating before facing tax hikes.

Arguments Against

Opponents

A broad coalition opposes Amendment 1, including environmental groups like the Sierra Club Florida, social justice groups like the League of Women Voters of Florida, and major newspapers across the state.

Many Democratic lawmakers strongly criticize it as well, including Agricultural Commissioner Nikki Fried who called it “shortsighted.” The Florida Democratic Party officially rejects the amendment.

Reasons to Vote No

Threatens funding for climate adaptation. Critics argue Amendment 1 will deprive local communities of tax revenues needed now to implement infrastructure projects that increase long-term resilience like seawalls, living shorelines, and elevated roadways.

Reduces affordable housing funds. Opponents contend the tax revenue losses will hurt low-income residents by cutting into local government budgets used to fund affordable housing programs, which are already under strain in Florida’s hot real estate market.

Discourages planning for climate impacts. Amendment 1 critics say restricting appraisals to 10 years gives homeowners a false sense that risks are limited to such a short timeframe, reducing motivation to make adaptations or relocation plans for the long run.

Benefits large real estate interests. Detractors portray the amendment as a ploy by big coastal developers to protect short-term profits while passing the costs of sea rise onto smaller local governments and residents.

See also  Tricia Flanagan

Locks in place a flawed tax system. Those against argue the 3% assessment cap is an arbitrary figure that distorts property taxes in ways that are unfair and fails to provide stable funding for public services.

Path to the Ballot

Origination and Process

The Florida Coastal Property Alliance first proposed the amendment in 2021. They worked with the state legislature to officially place it on the November 2022 ballot.

For a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment to get before voters in Florida, it must win approval from 60% of state legislators. Amendment 1 passed the Florida House and Senate by the required three-fifths vote in April 2022.

Legal Challenges

Two lawsuits sought to block Amendment 1 from the ballot but both failed in court.

One argued the amendment’s summary language hid its true impacts from voters. The other claimed bundling multiple provisions into one violated the state’s single subject rule for amendments.

Judges dismissed each case in September 2022, allowing the amendment to stay on the ballot. But further legal challenges could come depending on the amendment’s fate at the polls in November.

Public Opinion and Polls

Tracking Support Over Time

Most polls over the past year show a majority of Florida voters initially supported Amendment 1. But that lead has narrowed in recent months as opposition arguments circulate.

  • In December 2021, a poll by the University of North Florida found 66% would vote yes and 22% no.
  • By September 2022, a survey by the same university showed support had slipped to 48% yes and 41% no.
  • An early October poll by the National Association of Realtors had 46% in favor and 42% against.

Demographic Divides

There are notable splits in Amendment 1 support across demographic groups:

  • By region: Voters on Florida’s Gulf coast, which faces less imminent sea rise threats, back the amendment in higher numbers than those on the Atlantic side.
  • By age: Older voters favor the amendment more than younger generations who cite climate change concerns.
  • By party: Republicans overwhelmingly endorse it while most Democrats reject it. Support among independents mirrors overall opinion.

These divides reflect broader patterns seen on environmental ballot measures, with younger and more left-leaning voters opposing policies perceived to slow climate action.

Potential Impacts

If approved, Amendment 1 would have wide-ranging effects on coastal properties and local government finances over the next decade.

On Coastal Property Taxes

  • Homeowners likely would see lower property tax bills than if assessments fully accounted for long-term sea rise.
  • But taxes still could increase from today’s levels due to the 3% annual assessment cap as values gradually tick upwards.
  • Savings would be concentrated among wealthier owners of higher-value coastal homes. Owners of lower-valued inland properties would see minimal impact.
See also  Alex Walker (Colorado)

On Affordable Housing Funds

  • Local governments anticipate losing millions in revenue that otherwise would have gone to affordable housing programs funded through property taxes.
  • This could reduce resources available for assisting lower-income residents struggling amid rising rents and home prices statewide.

On Climate Change Resilience

  • Adaptation projects such as beach renourishment, sea walls, and infrastructure elevation likely would face underfunding.
  • But some local governments could turn to other funding sources for resilience projects like stormwater fees and sales taxes.

Similar Measures in Other States

Florida isn’t alone in grappling with the property tax implications of climate change. A few examples:

  • In California, the state assessing agency in 2021 moved to factor sea level rise into property valuations over the next 30 years. This would increase taxes on vulnerable coastal properties.
  • In New Jersey, a bill proposed requiring real estate sellers to disclose future flood risks to buyers. The legislation aims to incorporate climate projections into the market. It remains pending.
  • In North Carolina, a county petitioned to have climate change risks exempted from property value assessments. The state rejected the request in 2020.

How Florida votes on Amendment 1 could sway similar efforts in other states facing ‘climate gentrification’ concerns as rising seas threaten coastal housing markets.

Key Dates

  • April 2022: Legislature approves amendment for November ballot
  • September 2022: Court challenges rejected
  • October 2022: Record number of early/mail-in ballots cast
  • November 8, 2022: Election Day

Conclusion

Amendment 1 reflects the high-stakes tensions climate change is creating between coastal homeowners, local governments, and environmentalists. Adapting to sea rise equitably and affordably presents difficult trade-offs that Florida and other states must navigate.

With polls showing a close divide on the amendment, voter turnout and late-deciding independents will determine the outcome. Many also will be watching to see if Florida approves a property tax limitation measure even as climate dangers draw nearer, which could embolden similar efforts nationwide.

Regardless of the vote, the issues driving Amendment 1 likely will remain contentious in Florida for years absent broader reforms to facilitate climate adaptation, support lower-income residents, and modernize the property tax system. Novel solutions will be needed to balance economic stability, social equity, and environmental responsibility along America’s increasingly vulnerable coastlines.

FAQ

Q: How would Amendment 1 affect homeowners insurance rates?

A: The amendment would not directly impact insurance rates, which are regulated separately from property taxes. But over the long term, limiting local adaptation funding could increase flood risks, which may translate to higher premiums.

Q: Can’t local governments just raise tax rates to offset lower assessments?

A: The amendment and existing state law caps tax rates local governments can impose. Higher rates can’t offset lower assessments.

Q: If my home floods in 15 years, can I still get a property tax refund?

A: No, the amendment doesn’t allow refunds on taxes already paid. It only limits assessments prospectively over the next decade.

Q: Are any types of properties exempt from Amendment 1?

A: Yes, taxes levied by school districts wouldn’t be impacted. The assessment cap would apply to all other local property taxes.

Q: Could the legislature extend Amendment 1’s provisions past 2029 if it passes?

A: Yes, lawmakers could propose additional constitutional amendments in the future to further extend or modify provisions in Amendment 1.

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