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House links homestead exemption increase to Senate priorities

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The fate of this year’s gambling bill is being held hostage to passage of a homestead exemption increase, sources told FloridaPolitics.com Sunday night.

Publicly, lawmakers have been saying that progress on omnibus gambling legislation was taking a backseat to the 2017-18 state budget talks.

The Conference Committee on Gaming hasn’t met since last Thursday. The Senate is largely for some expansion of gambling in the state; the House wants to hold the line.

Behind the scenes, however, House leadership made the decision to put gambling on hold until the Senate moved on the House’s priority bill, an increase in the state’s homestead exemption that would effectively result in a property tax reduction.

Even if passed, the measure creates a constitutional amendment that still has to be approved by 60 percent of voters on the 2018 statewide ballot.

It’s on the Senate floor for a vote Monday afternoon.

“Everyone is on pins and needles on lots of issues waiting for that vote,” said one veteran lobbyist. “Everything melts down if the Senate doesn’t pass it.”

But the measure is bitterly opposed by many Democrats and local governments, who say cutting taxes means less money to fund critical local services like police and fire. It wouldn’t affect taxes to fund local public schools.

But House Speaker Richard Corcoran and his lieutenants made clear, according to lobbyists in The Process, that the gambling bill “and a whole lot of other stuff” will suffocate and die without passage of the exemption measure.

“Session comes to a halt without the homestead bill,” another consultant said.

Signals from the Senate of how badly it wants a gambling bill this year have been mixed.

Sen. Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican and likely Senate President for 2018-10, has long been the chamber’s point man on gambling.

At the first conference meeting, Galvano said he did not “want to raise anybody’s expectations,” at the same time adding that “inaction (on gambling) is not an option.”

Neither he nor state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, a Miami-Dade Republican and Galvano’s House counterpart in the Gaming conference, responded to a request for comment.

The night before the Monday vote, a gambling lobbyist sent a text, saying things were “scary … I’m nervous.”

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Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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