June 20th, 2007 3:00 PM by Ron Mastrodonato
Sink: Reducing property tax may cost jobsOCALA, Fla. – June 8, 2007 – If the Florida Legislature passes a property tax reduction measure in its upcoming special session, Florida will lose jobs, a top state official said Wednesday.Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink told those attending the quarterly meeting of the Ocala/Marion County Economic Development Corp. that property tax reduction is necessary, but will come at a cost.“If we have a 20-percent decrease in property taxes, thousands of Floridians are going to lose their jobs,” she said.The Legislature will meet in special session from June 12 through June 22 to consider property tax-relief measures.After the meeting, Sink added that she believes lawmakers will cut property taxes to some degree, but not to such a drastic extent.“I think there will be property tax decreases mandated, and the question is how much,” she said. “I personally can’t see 20 percent. That’ll put the skids on our economy.”As local governments throughout the state brace for the prospect of lower revenue, planning is crucial, Sink said.“People are going to lose their jobs. It could mean libraries closing, reduced hours,” she said. “The good thing that might come out of it is … hopefully, this will free people to sit down at the table and think ‘maybe we can provide this service more efficiently.’”A proposal that would allow local governments, if residents vote to permit it, to raise taxes above the levels set by the Legislature would be “critical,” she added. That could require voters to make tough choices, Sink said.“People overwhelmingly want their property taxes cut, but they also overwhelmingly don’t want their services cut,” she said.On another hot-button issue, homeowners’ insurance rates, Sink said measures taken by the Legislature during the regular session could cost taxpayers more in the event of a damaging hurricane season.“We’ve put ourselves, all of us, on the line to take more risk,” she said, noting that the state’s potential risk exposure through the state-backed Citizens Property Insurance is now $39 billion.Sink later said that it will take some time to see how the changes made this year will affect insurance rates. For now, rate increases have stopped, and rate decreases should be occurring in the next six months, she said.Sink, a Democrat, also called for health insurance reform, saying 20 percent of the state’s residents have no insurance.“We have a serious health insurance issue in this state, with both availability and affordability,” she said. “We’ve got to bring that number down.”Before Sink spoke, EDC President and CEO Pete Tesch said firetruck manufacturer E-One’s decision to remain in Ocala “added another page in Ocala’s rich history.”E-One announced in November it was looking for a new plant site, either in Ocala or out of state. But the company announced in April that it would remain in its current Ocala facilities for the foreseeable future.The city, county and state offered E-One a $26.7 million incentive package to build a new plant here, but that figure was dwarfed by packages from other communities, Tesch noted.Even so, Tesch called the proposal, the largest offered to date in Florida, a “victory, because we all worked together to save quality jobs.”The EDC is working with Dayco Products, which recently was sold to a new owner, to find a site for a new facility in the area, Tesch added.Copyright © 2007 Ocala Star-Banner, Fla., Rick Cundiff. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.