Impact Fee, Toll Road and Home Elevation Bills Pass

A number of real estate bills continue to pass the Florida Legislature and await Gov. DeSantis’ signature, or veto, as the 2022 session draws to a close. A statewide limit on impact fees passed, along with tax breaks for elevating homes. A third bill limits planned construction of toll roads.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – The Florida Legislature continues to pass bills as the session draws to a close for 2022. On Monday and Tuesday, the House and Senate passed a number of real estate-related bills that become law if signed by Gov. DeSantis or fail if he chooses to veto one of them.

Impact fees

On Monday, the Florida Senate on Monday gave final approval to a measure that seeks to limit increases in impact fees, which many local governments collect from developers to help pay for growth-related costs. Senators voted 28-12 to pass the measure (HB 337), with Senate sponsor Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, saying it is aimed at creating “predictability in the marketplace.”

The House passed the bill last week, meaning it’s now ready to go to Gov. Ron DeSantis for either his signature or veto.

The bill, in part, seeks to prevent impact fees from being increased more often than every four years and cap increases at 50% – plus increases up to 25% would have to be implemented in two annual increments; increases between 25% and 50% would be done in four installments. The bill includes an exception to the limits if local governments meet certain legal criteria – what Gruters described as “relief valve.” In addition, the bill defines types of infrastructure projects that could be funded with impact-fee money.

Supporters said the bill is needed because of large impact-fee increases in places such as Hillsborough County that developers pass along to homebuyers. But Sen. Bobby Powell, D-West Palm Beach, objected to the bill Monday, pointing to impacts on local governments’ home-rule authority.

Home elevation tax break

The tax break comes in the form of a constitutional amendment that would go before voters next year and, if passed by 60% of the voters, becomes part of the Florida Constitution.

The Senate unanimously backed the proposal Monday, and the House unanimously passed the proposal last week. It will ask voters to provide a tax break to property owners who elevate their homes to address potential flooding. The proposed constitutional amendment (HJR 1377) is part of a House plan to combat rising sea levels.

The issue involves the assessed values of homes for tax purposes when they’re elevated. Under the proposal, such improvements would not be considered in determining assessed values if the work meets National Flood Insurance Program and Florida Building Code elevation requirements – which should result in a tax break.

A Senate staff analysis said the proposed constitutional amendment, if passed, would reduce local government property-tax revenue by $5.8 million during the 2023-2024 fiscal year, with the amount growing to $25.1 million annually.

The proposed tax break is one of a series of efforts that House Speaker Chris Sprowls, R-Palm Harbor, and other lawmakers have pursued during this year’s legislative session to address the effects of climate change. Among other things, the House and Senate passed a bill (SB 1954) that calls for spending up to $100 million a year on projects and creates the “Resilient Florida Grant Program” in the Department of Environmental Protection. The program would set criteria for local governments to apply for funding assistance to address sea-level rise issues. DeSantis has not yet signed or vetoed that bill.

Toll road repeal

If development follows transportation, a cutback in previously planned toll roads will limit some Florida areas that don’t have easy access to major highways.

With little comment, the Florida House on Tuesday gave final approval to scrapping much of a controversial toll-road plan, sending the issue to Gov. Ron DeSantis. The House voted 115-0 to repeal the program dubbed the Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance, or M-CORES, which was pushed through in 2019 by then-Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.

While the planned toll-road projects have been a lightning rod for environmentalists, the Florida Transportation Builders’ Association, a backer of the M-CORES plan in 2019, called the repeal a responsible way to address the state’s “short-term and long-term infrastructure.”

“As Florida’s population continues to grow, there will be an increasing number of vehicles traveling on our roads and we will need both new and improved roadways throughout our state to accommodate them,” association President Ananth Prasad said in a prepared statement Tuesday. “This legislation is a sensible approach to begin addressing this issue. Prioritizing infrastructure investments, as the Legislature has done with the passage of this important bill, is vital to the future success.”

DeSantis’ office didn’t immediately respond to a question about whether the governor will sign the bill (SB 100), which the Senate approved on March 25.

The 2019 law called for building a toll road from Collier County to Polk County; extending Florida’s Turnpike to connect with the Suncoast Parkway; and extending the Suncoast Parkway from Citrus County to Jefferson County. It dedicated up to $101.7 million a year for the projects.

The bill approved Tuesday would eliminate the road between Collier and Polk counties, while requiring plans to extend the turnpike west from Wildwood to the Suncoast Parkway and to lay out a route that would weave the Suncoast Parkway north along U.S. 19 to connect with Interstate 10 in Madison County.

The measure relies in part on recommendations of task forces that looked at the toll-road projects last year. Also, lawmakers have cited economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, which included forcing the Department of Transportation to trim a work program.

The task forces, which spent about 15 months reviewing the M-CORES projects, sent a report to lawmakers in November calling for a deeper dive into the future traffic needs of the state. Also, Florida TaxWatch raised questions last summer about the need for extending the Suncoast Parkway and the potential cost.

Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, said lawmakers listened to Floridians after the M-CORES plan was approved.

“Those voices are very different voices from around the state,” Diamond said. “Many people from our small towns, from our ag community, many people from our environmental community, worked through the process that we set forward in our legislation – these M-CORES task force meetings – to express their concerns with the project. And I think we’ve all read the TaxWatch report and realized how much money we would have committed to future legislators on this project.”

Under the bill, transportation officials would develop a plan that would extend the Suncoast Parkway north along U.S. 19 by the end of 2035. The bill would include non-tolled alternatives for local traffic along U.S. 19; require property owners impacted by the roads to get at least one access point for each mile of land owned; and seek to avoid dividing historic minority communities.

The bill also would direct transportation officials to start project-development and environmental work on an extension of the turnpike from where it ends now in Wildwood. They would have to submit a report to legislative leaders and the governor on the project by the end of 2022.

Source: News Service of Florida, Jim Turner