Friday, September 19, 2008

Judicial End Run

Bill Post, who has become the authority on the history of Pensacola Beach lease taxation issues, has a new Viewpoint article in the Independent Sun. The weekly newspaper titles it "Ignoring 1987 Ruling."

Among other things, Mr. Post has unearthed a nugget of legislative history about the key Florida statute (Florida Statute chapter 196) that no court, so far as we can recall, has ever mentioned:
The current legislative statute's intent was clearly explained in the June 3, 1980 written state senate staff Analysis that said the leaseholds will no longer be "assessed and taxed as real property" as if leaseholders were owners, but "shall be taxed only as intangible personal property." Please again take note of the word "only."
As Post observes, this expression of legislative history rather directly undermines an argument Escambia County property appraiser Chris Jones has been trumpeting through the legal system: that the legislature was "silent" about taxation of leaseholds insofar as the alternate theory of "equitable ownership" is concerned. It is not an act of silence when a legislature says this is the "only" tax intended.

If one were able to summon faith that Florida's courts, as presently constituted, truly judge cases based on proven facts and law rather than, say, politics or power, Post's historical nugget might loom large. On the other hand, to borrow Finley Peter Dunne's famous epigram, there are some courts that "follow the election returns." In which case, of course, the facts become as inconsequential as legal precedent.

We're still waiting to see which kind of court is judging the Pensacola Beach residential leasehold tax dispute.

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