2012 Florida State Constitutional Amendments – Politics Florida Style

The proposed amendments to Florida’s State Constitution are emblematic of what has gone wrong with our government. Some are just plain dumb. For example, Amendment 1 removes the individual mandate for healthcare at the state level but have no effect on the federal Affordable Care Act, also known as “Obamacare.” Equally frivolous is Amendment 6 that prohibits public funding of abortions. Other than to make a political statement, why would one propose an amendment to prohibit something that has never existed?

Here’s the bottom line – vote “No” on all the amendments. And here’s why…

The Republican sponsored amendments will have the effect of etiolating public schools by reducing their funding while at the same time taking steps to provide tax funded vouchers for religious schools. If this weren’t bad enough, the Republicans and Governor Scott are making an attempt to reduce the power of the Supreme Court by removing three reputable judges.

Property Taxes – You can’t get something for nothing.

I rarely pay much attention to proposed constitutional amendments until just before the election. Well, that time has come and this year’s crop of proposed amendments reveals Florida’s Republican Party has been nothing if not diligent in their attempts to advance an extreme conservative agenda. The overarching theme is to cut taxes without any idea of how to fund the services that were dependent upon that revenue.

Not surprisingly, local governments will be hit the hardest especially the school system. It gets worse for our public schools. Besides a de facto defunding of public schools through tax reduction amendments, there is also an Amendment that would facilitate the use of publicly funded vouchers to be used at religious schools. Amendment 8 “Religious Freedom” would allow government funding of religious institutions. Besides violating the sanctity of the separation barrier between church and state, Amendment 8 will further hasten the deterioration of public schools.

The financial impact of the five property tax amendments (2, 4, 9, 10, and 11) is not trivial. The League of Women Voters of Florida makes the following observation: “If all five were to pass, local governments would lose over $1 billion over the first three years of implementation. In addition to concerns that this lost revenue could result in cuts to essential services, such as education, transportation and public safety, the League’s position has always been that no tax sources or revenues should be specified, limited, exempted or prohibited in the Constitution.”[1] (Emphasis added)

The reality is that you can’t get something for nothing. No one likes to pay taxes but they are a necessity, especially for funding schools. The point of control for local spending is local. There is no conceivable reason to propose such draconian tax cuts amendments unless there’s an agenda that’s being advanced. Welcome to Florida politics. It doesn’t take much insight to recognize what’s at play with these amendments – hello Tea Party mentality. I would like to think that Florida voters are informed enough to see consequences of approving these amendments. If passed, more money will have to be raised from other sources – a painful and unpredictable process. I fear that voter’s may not think of the consequences of voting yes. The response may be, “Hell, yes I want to reduce my property taxes.” Everything has consequences and such an attitude bodes ill for the future of local governments and public education.

A summary of the recommendations by several organizations is interesting. In the table below, note that the two conservative groups, the Naples Daily News and the Florida Chamber of Commerce generally support the property tax reduction amendments while the more centrist organizations are unanimous in their opposition.

Amendment Tampa Bay Times The Florida Times Union Florida League of Women Voters Naples Daily News Florida Chamber of Commerce
1. Healthcare Services

No

No No Yes

Yes

2. Veteran’s Homestead Discount

No

No No Yes

NP*

3. State Government Revenue Limitation

No

No No No

Yes

4. Property Tax Limitations

No

No No Yes

Yes

5. State Courts

No

No No No

Yes

6. Prohibition of Public Abortion Funding

No

No No No

NP

7 Withdrawn
8. Religious Freedom

No

No No No

Yes

9. Homestead Property Tax Exemption

No

No No Yes

NP

10. Tangible Personal Property Tax Exemption

No

No No Yes

Yes

11. Homestead Exemption

No

No No Yes

NP

12. Student Body President.

No

No No No

NP

*NP= No Position

The Florida Times Union may have summarized it best by opining the following:

“The Florida Constitution should be amended rarely and with great care and debate — a classic conservative position.  Yet a collection of proposed constitutional amendments on the Nov. 6 ballot, if passed, would wreak havoc on funding for local government services, including education, transportation, veterans’ services, libraries and the elderly.

They most likely would result in alternative taxes and fees being levied against many residents to replace some of the many millions that would be lost. Among the group approved by the Legislature are three “feel good” amendments that may lure voters to approve the entire package.

These amendments would exacerbate the problem of the state’s tax structure, which Florida TaxWatch has accurately called “convoluted and inequitable.” [2]

A battle on two fronts – Supreme Court judges under attack.

Also on the ballot are apparently innocuous question about retaining Supreme Court Judges. As is the case with the property tax amendments, these questions reflect a power consolidation move by Governor Scott and the Republicans that would have a long reaching impact of the autonomy of the court. The Tampa Bay Times see it this way. “The merit retention questions on Florida Supreme Court justices are generally routine and attract little attention, because the court is well-respected and has operated without scandal for decades. This year is different. This year, three justices are under an unprecedented political assault by the Republican Party of Florida and outside conservative groups that are upset with some of the court’s decisions. Floridians should reject this attempt to intimidate and politicize the state’s highest court, and they should retain Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara J. Pariente and Peggy A. Quince. ”[3]

It’s not just the three judges, Diluting the separation of powers is a slippery slope and one that shod be avoided. If the Governor doesn’t like a Supreme Court ruling then the response should be to offer alternative legislation – not remove the judges.

The amendments matter this year and all should be rejected.

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