Gov. Ron DeSantis is signing an executive order postponing property tax payments for residents severely affected by Hurricane Ian, which slammed Southwest Florida Sept. 28, bringing deadly storm surge, powerful winds and significant flooding to that area and Central Florida as it trudged through the peninsula.
“The last thing we want is someone loses their home and then they get hit up for property taxes for a home that doesn’t exist anymore,” DeSantis said during an event Thursday in Fort Myers Beach, one of the hardest-hit areas.
The executive order will delay payments on property taxes for both residential homes and commercial properties in the 26 counties approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency for individual assistance: Brevard, Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Flagler, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Highlands, Hillsborough, Lake, Lee, Manatee, Monroe, Okeechobee, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Putnam, Sarasota, Seminole, St. Johns and Volusia.
It’s designed for people who saw major damage to their home, with the ultimate goal of removing the tax burden for this year altogether. DeSantis noted he doesn’t have the authority to completely eliminate the taxes, but will call a Special Session later this year for the Legislature to provide property tax rebates for homeowners and business owners.
That Special Session, though, will likely include more than just the rebates. DeSantis said the state, flush with $17 billion in reserves, could provide local governments in Southwest Florida that will see a hit to their budgets because of the lack of property taxes with funding for essential services, such as fire departments.
Another potential item on the Special Session agenda is reforming property insurance laws to prop up the market in Florida, which saw six companies go bankrupt even before Ian hit. Initial data from the Office of Insurance Regulation shows insured losses are estimated at $6.45 billion, based on claims submitted as of Wednesday.
DeSantis said he’s spoken with Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, a Naples Republican, and Rep. Paul Renner, a Palm Coast Republican, who are set to become the Senate President and House Speaker, respectively, after the November elections, and both are supportive of the Special Session. An exact date for the session will be announced in the coming days, he said, but will be after the Nov. 8 election and before the end of the year.
“I believe impacted homeowners should receive a refund for property tax paid during any time their home was uninhabitable,” Passidomo said in a released statement.
“The Legislature has provided this same benefit to impacted communities following prior storms, and I have every confidence my colleagues will be happy to support similar action for those impacted by Hurricane Ian. The Governor has been a strong champion for Southwest Florida during this trying time for our community, and I look forward to continuing to work with him on this and other legislation to help our region recover and rebuild.”
Renner, too, is on board with the Special Session.
“The Florida House will work closely with Governor DeSantis and our Senate partners to provide tax relief to Floridians whose homes were impacted by Hurricane Ian,” Renner stated. “I also look forward to joining my colleagues in Tallahassee to work towards fortifying consumer-driven reforms to our property insurance market.”
House Democrats are also keen to address the property insurance crisis in a Special Session, but are skeptical of what Republicans, who are likely to hold their large majorities in each chamber after the election, are going to pass.
“We’re glad Governor DeSantis is finally on board with what Florida Democrats have been saying the whole time: our property insurance market is in crisis and Floridians are suffering. I’m just sorry it took a hurricane to get him to act,” said Rep. Fentrice Driskell, a Tampa Democrat and next in line to lead House Democrats after the November election.
“Obviously, we will need to see what they propose. Our last Special Session was specifically about property insurance, and it didn’t even come close to solving the problem. We’ll need to see specific plans and how they’ll actually help the people of Florida. This is not the time for half-measures.”