Wednesday, May 23, 2007

The Dangers Of Steady Habits: Why Florida Is A Boom Town And Connecticut A Wreck

My wife and I and Jake, her guide dog, are back from a short vacation in Florida, where we visited with her sister and a friend who moved out of Connecticut several years ago to be near his son.

The many Nutmeggers we met in Naples and Vero Beach put me in mind of a story told about Rex Harrison, the famous British actor who moved to Belgium in order, some supposed, to escape Britain’s high taxes.

Why did he move to Belgium, Harrison was asked by an aggrieved BBC reporter.

Harrison smiled broadly and said he liked the chocolates.

Florida is not known for its chocolates, but it has become a haven for the tired, wretched and increasingly poor Nutmeggers who like its Homestead Act.

The Homestead Act is a bar to the kinds of increases in Connecticut property taxes that now threaten to impoverish all classes in the state but the very wealthy, whose fixed incomes are generous. They may not be so for long; our ever voracious legislature has been diddling for some time with a millionaire's tax. Most recently, Democrats in the legislature have settled upon a more progressive tax that will kick in when earnings reach the $200,000 level, perhaps reasoning that a 1/5th millionaire is better than no millionaire at all.

If you bought a house in Naples in 1960 and paid X percent in taxes on it, the X percent will remain pretty much the same as you get on in years and your earning potential decreases.

Naples and Vero Beach are boomtowns largely because of the Homestead Act.

Not only does the Florida property tax homestead exemption reduce the value of a home for assessment of property taxes by $25,000, it also caps the rate at which property taxes may be increased. If a house is homesteaded, its assessed value remains fairly constant.

There is no revaluation shock on homes in Florida; this is the result of the “Save Our Homes” Amendment to the Florida Constitution which was passed by voters in 1992, and went into effect in 1995. The amendment caps the increase of the assessed value of a home with a homestead exemption to the lesser of 3% or the rate of inflation.

And so, a Floridian, returning home from a vacation in Connecticut never picks up his newspaper to find this.

The city of Hartford is forced to go begging for a reprive from the legislature because a) the city itself has not minded its spending, b) revaluation has enriched the government of Hartford while impoverishing its people, c) the city now finds it must reverse an earlier prudent decision to eliminate a tax that is punishing to businesses because people simply cannot afford the hike in taxes.

The good news is – they can always move to Florida, where the weather is fine, the taxes are low and business is booming.

Oh yes; I almost forgot -- in Florida sprawl is pretty. Naples itself has sprawled and sprawled and sprawled; it keeps getting bigger and better all the time. This satisfies the town fathers, state politicians and those who depend on the large increase in tax revenue produced by the influx of Nutmeggers fleeing south. The more people there are, the more tax revenue there is. And businesses follow. Businesses do not lobby legislatures in an attempt to persuade grasping politicians to favor them over the vox populi. Between the two, there is an amiable truce; what is good for one is good for the other.

Here in the Land Of Steady Bad Habits, taxing is a zero sum game, and the fittest will survive -- or move to Florida, where everyone is happy, tanned and carefree.
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