Unconstitutional Realtor Tax Break Passes 50
By Meisha Perrin
Despite one commissioner’s claim that it is unconstitutional, the Miami City Commission last week passed an ordinance to exempt any licensed and operating real estate associate from the requirement to apply for an exemption from a local business tax, pay a local business tax or obtain a local business tax receipt.
The ordinance allows the city to be in accordance with state law, which Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, who voiced his opinion against the constitutionality of the ordinance in the last commission meeting, said is the only reason he voted yes this time around.
"I think this law classifies people differently," Mr. Sarnoff said. "While I understand we are just trying to follow the Florida Legislature, because somebody had a good lobbyist up there and snuck something in a bill, doesn’t mean that I think we should follow what they do."
But according to City Attorney Julie O. Bru, Florida legislators can in fact classify people differently under the constitution if the classifications are not intended to classify individuals according to race, religion, national origin or anything that would affect some fundamental right, as long as the legislature has a rational basis.
And real estate salespersons are not the only individuals who are exempt from the local business tax law. There are numerous exemptions, Ms. Bru said, including for veterans, charitable organizations and mobile home setup operations.
"You can’t pick and choose how you are going to implement the state law," she said.
"As your city attorney, I would have to recommend that either you follow the state law or do away with the entire BTR [business tax] program."
Either way they vote, according to commission Chairman Francis Suarez, would leave the city at risk of a lawsuit.
"If we deny this, we will continue to charge the real estate industry — and we can’t," Commissioner Frank Carollo said.
In the end, the commission, at Mr. Suarez’s suggestion, voted unanimously to implement the ordinance with a sunset in one year so commissioners can see if other cities are challenged — and with an instruction to Miami’s lobbying team to clarify the classification difference in Tallahassee. To read the entire issue of Miami Today online, subscribe to e -Miami Today, an exact digital replica of the printed edition.