Darryl Rouson says that he was legitimately undecided days before the Florida Senate would vote on whether to place a measure on the 2018 ballot to increase Florida’s homestead exemption.
A late amendment that would exempt 29 of the state’s poorest counties from being affected by the loss of property tax revenues ultimately led him to become one of six Democrats in the state Senate to support the measure. But it was a comment by a local elected official who wanted him to oppose the measure that really fueled his support.
“”Rouson, don’t be stupid. The voter is stupid. You can’t trust the voters,’ ” were the words of an unarmed official, according to the St. Petersburg Democrat who was speaking in Tampa’s Seminole Heights Wednesday night.
“‘In fact, you ought to be able to relate to this, Rouson,'” he recounted. ” ‘The voter is like a drunk that you give a glass of wine to and walk away and say ‘do the right thing.’ “
Rouson has talked frequently about his addiction to alcohol and crack cocaine — an addiction which undoubtedly the local official was referring to in attempt to make a point. Rouson declined to tell this reporter who he was referring to, saying only that it was a locally elected official in the Tampa Bay region
Although there was no official Democratic position to put a measure to expand the homestead exemption to $75,000 on next year’s ballot, it was strongly opposed by the majority of Democratic legislators, as well by most city council and county commissioners throughout the state, who say passage of the measure will lead to major reductions in property tax revenues and, therefore, a reduction in local services.
Those says the expansion would only worsen a tax unfairness problem caused by Save Our Homes, a provision in the state constitution that limits increases in the assessed value of homesteaded property to 3 percent a year.
Hillsborough County officials say they could see a reduction of at least $30 million in revenues if the measure passes, while Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn has said the city is looking at a $6 million cut in revenues.
Rouson was narrowly elected to Senate District 19 last fall, the majority of which resides in Hillsborough County. He was crashing the intimate town hall meeting at the Seminole Heights Exchange that was hosted by Tampa state Representative Sean Shaw, who couldn’t be more vocal about his opposition to the measure.
“I voted against it because I don’t believe everything needs to go on the ballot to the voter,” Shaw says. “If there’s stuff that’s atrocious enough that I don’t think deserves the attention of the Florida Constitution, I’m going to vote against it.”
Rouson does not support the passage of the measure. He simply says that the voters should be given the option, and thinks with education, they will oppose the measure.
“I believe that between now and 17 more months, people like you will become educated and will learn about the impact that this will have on their communities and will exercise the right decision, ” he said. “I’m not your parent, keeping something away from you that you can’t be trusted with.”
The measure was strongly supported by House Speaker Richard Corcoran. His office strongly contests the notion that counties in Florida will see their revenues reduced if the measure passes.
In addition to Rouson, five other Democrats in the Senate supported the measure, which ensured its passage, since it needed to get two-thirds support in the Senate. If all 15 Democrats had opposed it, it would not be on the ballot.
It was the measure by Tallahassee Senator Bill Montford to protect the state’s 29 poorest counties from losing any more property tax revenue that Rouson said gave him comfort in putting the measure on the ballot.
Florida TaxWatch opposes the measure because of the inequality that it says that it’s passage will create.
“It’s just a tax shift,” Robert E. Weissert, executive vice president and counsel to the president and CEO with TaxWatch said at a Tampa Tiger Bay meeting last month. Weissert says that local governments will rely less on getting revenues from owner-occupied homes to businesses and non-homestead properties, such as vacation homes and apartment complexes. He also noted that the higher exemption would protect the state’s 29 poorest counties from losing any more property tax revenue.