Unaware Floridians may be in for a shock on election day when they discover what’s in store for them in the voting booth.
With 11 amendments on the ballot, voters in the Sunshine State will face a lengthy series of proposed changes to the state Constitution, some of them downright confusing and nearly unintelligible.
All of the proposals were cooked up in Tallahassee by lawmakers, who often seemed intent on political grandstanding rather than legislating to achieve narrow, often partisan objectives at the cost of fiddling around with the state’s basic document.
This is neither good lawmaking nor good policy. The essential criterion for constitutional change should be urgent, demonstrated need, which is not the case for measures on the 2012 ballot.
This is particularly relevant for proposals aimed at tightening budget and tax restrictions, which we will address today, along with a measure on healthcare services. Our recommendations on Amendments 5, 6, 8 and 12 (No. 7 was struck down) will be published later this week.
The League of Women Voters estimates that the five amendments on the ballot that deal with local property taxes would result in a loss of more than $1 billion to local governments over the first three years after adoption.
In a state with (1) relatively low taxes; (2) chronic budget shortfalls, and (3) glaring service needs for the sick, elderly and children, restricting future revenues makes little sense.
Amendment 1: This would essentially forbid the Affordable Care Act — already certified by the Supreme Court as the law of the land — from taking effect in Florida. That’s about as blatantly political as it gets — and just about as pointless. Approval would lead to a U.S. constitutional challenge, an expensive legal fight, and ultimate rejection by the courts. Save your money. Vote No.
Amendment 2: This extends the homestead exemption to disabled veterans who were not residents of Florida when they entered military service. Widening the homestead exemption for another category of citizens, however deserving, is generally a bad idea. This one would cost local governments $15 million over three years, according to some estimates. If it succeeds, other efforts to widen exemptions would follow. Vote No.
Amendment 3: Voters may find this one especially tough to decipher, which may well be what legislators intended. Essentially, it alters the state formula for determining state revenue in a way that would severely limit the amount of money on hand to address basic needs such as infrastructure, healthcare and other services. In Colorado, where a similar amendment known as the “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” (TABOR) was approved, cuts proved so unpopular that voters eventually reversed themselves and suspended the new formula. If it didn’t work there, why should it work here, where the needs are probably greater? Vote No.
Amendment 4: This is the big-ticket item insofar as lost revenue for local governments — an estimated $1 billion after three years. Among other things, it would reduce the cap on property tax assessments for non-homesteaded properties from 10 percent to 5 percent per year. Call it the Save-Our-Second-Homes Amendment. There are other relevant provisions, including a property-tax exemption that would act as an incentive for first-time home buyers. The severe impact on local governments is enough to recommend a thumbs-down. Property taxes in Florida may be in need of an overhaul, but piecemeal attempts to widen exemptions is not the way to go about it. Vote No.
Amendment 9: This also involves property taxes, but allows the Legislature to “totally exempt or partially exempt” the surviving spouses of military veterans and first responders who died in the line of duty. Again, the issue is creating a new category of exemptions — in this case, possibly a full exemption from ad valorem homestead property taxes — that would reduce funds available to strapped local governments. The cumulative impact of these actions would impair local services. Vote No.
Amendment 10: This raises the exemption involving tangible personal property taxes, applied to businesses, from $25,000 to $50,000, subject to city and county approval. Of all the proposals, this may be the most worthwhile, but it’s another piecemeal attempt to eat into revenues via an unnecessary amendment to the Constitution. Vote No.
Amendment 11: One more effort to allow counties and cities to exempt homesteaded properties from taxation if seniors meet certain conditions: their home’s “just value” of less than $250,000; permanent residency on the site for at least 25 years; taxpayer is at least 65 years of age; and has “low” household income as defined by law. Vote No.