Lanning v. Pilcher, — So.3d —-, 2009 WL 1941210 (Fla. 1st DCA Jul 08, 2009)

The “Save Our Homes” (SOH) amendment to Florida’s constitution sets a 3% maximum limit on annual valuation increases of homestead property for ad valorem tax purposes. Over time, the SOH cap has created huge disparities in property taxes paid by Florida residents vs. non-Florida residents. Consider these 2002 stat’s, as reported in Protecting and Preserving the Save Our Homes Cap:

Statewide in the year 2002 the Save Our Homes (SOH) cap protected about $80 billion in assessed value from taxation. That is up 68.50 percent over the year 2001, when it was about $47.9 billion.

But is it constitutional?

The discriminatory effect of Florida’s property tax scheme on non-residents is obvious, which makes it an easy target for constitutional attack. That’s basically what happened in the linked-to opinion. Unfortunately for the tax-challengers in this case all of their arguments have been tried before . . . and failed. And as explained by the 1st DCA, they didn’t work this time either:

The main appeal consists of a series of federal constitutional challenges to Article VII, Section 4(d), but all of the supporting arguments have been rejected before in comparable cases. For example, the Supreme Court held in Nordlinger v. Hahn, 505 U.S. 1 (1992), that a California constitutional amendment limiting real property tax increases to 2% per year, in the absence of a change of ownership, did not violate the Equal Protection Clause. And this court held in [Reinish v. Clark, 765 So.2d 197 (Fla. 1st DCA 2000)] that the Florida homestead exemption did not violate the Equal Protection Clause, the Privileges and Immunities Clause, or the Commerce Clause. Although Reinish dealt with the application of the $25,000 homestead exemption, while this case involves a challenge to the 3% tax cap on increases in the assessment of homestead property, the analysis is the same. In both cases, the tax benefit is based on the way the property is used, not on the status of the landowner as a resident or nonresident.

The homestead exemption and the 3% tax cap apply only to property that is used as a primary residence and therefore qualifies as a homestead. A Florida resident who owns vacation property or business property in the state will not be entitled to claim any tax benefit under Article VII, Section 4(c) and will be in the same position with respect to that property as a nonresident. The plaintiffs argue that the existence of a benefit for homestead property, when combined with the tax treatment of non-homestead property, gives Florida residents a tax advantage, but this is essentially an argument that the homestead exemption is itself unconstitutional, a point rejected in Reinish.

For these reasons we hold that Article VII, Section 4(c) of the Florida Constitution is valid under the United States Constitution and that it does not violate a nonresident’s rights under the Equal Protection Clause, the Privileges and Immunities Clause, or the Commerce Clause. Likewise, we hold that section 193.155, Florida Statutes, the law implementing Article VII, Section 4(c), is constitutionally valid.