Bloomberg News

Florida’s Taxing Districts Target of Proposed Review

October 20, 2011

(Corrects second paragraph description of amount of taxes levied).

Oct. 20 (Bloomberg) -- Governor Rick Scott plans to ask the Legislature for authority to review Florida’s special taxing districts, which collect $15.4 billion a year, as a way to lower residents’ costs.

The entities tax homeowners within designated boundaries to support such things as community hospitals, water-flow management and infrastructure for housing developments. Taxes by the 1,633 districts compare with $22.6 billion raised by the state in fiscal 2011.

Among areas for review may be community development districts, which issue bonds to finance roads and utility lines to make raw land suitable for builders. At least $2.9 billion of the $7 billion of so-called dirt bonds outstanding defaulted, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, because unfinished projects lack enough homeowner taxes to repay them.

The first-term Republican governor wants “to see what efficiencies or ways to save money we can identify so we can reduce the tax burden” by rooting out “bad actors,” Jon Costello, Scott’s legislative affairs director, told a House committee in Tallahassee today.

A June auditor general’s report recommended that Florida “establish parameters” for the amount of bonds development districts can issue after finding that almost a third were behind on payments and one in seven was paying from reserves.

The governor is studying which districts he will review and whether development zones will be among them, said Costello.

“We’re going to look at all the special districts and figure out which ones we want to concentrate on,” he said in an interview yesterday.

New Law

Scott, 58, pushed for a law enacted last year that lowered taxes levied by Florida’s five water-management districts by about 30 percent. The former health-industry executive also appointed a task force to examine hospital districts, which account for about a quarter of the taxation, his office said.

The broader investigation would include a review of the districts’ missions, the compensation of directors and how boards are chosen, Costello said. Any changes won’t be radical, he said.

“The governor’s not looking to take an ax to special districts,” he said. “He’s looking to take a measured approach and to really investigate it and see where things can be fixed and where things are running properly.”

Larry Ahern, Republican chairman of the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee, said in an interview yesterday that limiting dirt-bond districts’ taxing power was something “to look at.” He said he had no immediate plan to introduce legislation.

--Editors: Jerry Hart, Mark Schoifet

To contact the reporter on this story: Simone Baribeau in Tallahassee at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Tannenbaum at

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