With the Nov. 6 general election less than a month away, Florida voters have plenty of decisions before they enter their polling place. Over the next several weeks, the Town-Crier will offer opinions on some of the items voters will find on the ballot, starting with the proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution. Our overall opinion is that none of these amendments are necessary, and voting NO straight down the line is a safe bet. It should be noted that none of them were put on the ballot through citizen initiatives but by the Florida Legislature. Most, in our opinion, would create bad public policy. A number of them would set up state or county governments for financial problems in the future. The following is a brief rundown of each item:
• AMENDMENT 1 — The “Health Care Services” amendment would prevent the state from “compelling any person or employer to purchase, obtain or otherwise provide for healthcare coverage.” It is mostly moot because of the United States Supreme Court decision in favor of the Affordable Care Act and would only come into play if the healthcare reform legislation is repealed, but even then it’s not necessary. The argument against the controversial measure is that it’s a giant overreach by the federal government on something that’s better done on a state-by-state basis. However, passing this amendment strips the Florida Legislature of the authority to do just about anything regarding healthcare reform. The unintended consequences of this idea could be a major problem. We strongly recommend voting NO on this amendment.
• AMENDMENT 2 — This would extend additional homestead tax exemptions to veterans who were disabled in the line of duty by including those who were not Florida residents at the time they were in combat. The cost is estimated at $5 million a year, which isn’t too much of a strain on state and county coffers. Overall, we don’t find the amendment absolutely necessary, but it is a feel-good measure without much of a downside. We support voting YES on this item.
• AMENDMENT 3 — Amendment 3 would implement restrictions on spending by state lawmakers, placing a revenue limit based on inflation and population change. While this sounds like a great measure for reining in the spending, it’s really just an unnecessary straightjacket on future legislatures, and we recommend a NO vote.
• AMENDMENT 4 — This amendment would reduce annual growth and place assessment limitations on non-homesteaded properties, narrow the gap between assessed value and market value for homesteaded properties, and give an additional exemption to first-time homesteaders. Basically, this puts a Save Our Homes–style cap on commercial property and for seasonal property owners. This is by far the most expensive amendment on the ballot. It would hard hit counties and municipalities that have already dramatically cut their budgets. This assumes counties will continue to make budget cuts rather than raise tax rates, which is a big assumption considering all the cuts already made, and the fact that public safety makes up a huge part of county and municipal budgets. While this idea might have been nice during the housing bubble, we’re five years past that. We strongly recommend voting NO on this amendment.
• AMENDMENT 5 — This amendment gives additional control to the state legislature over the state’s judiciary by requiring that Florida Supreme Court justices be confirmed by the State Senate, and by changing the two-thirds majority to overturn a Florida Supreme Court ruling into a simple majority. This is basically the legislature’s power grab over the court system, making the governor’s Supreme Court appointments require legislative approval. The legislature already has a lot of power, and this unnecessarily tampers with the separation of powers. We strongly recommend voting NO on this amendment.
• AMENDMENT 6 — Although it is already illegal to spend public money on abortion, this amendment would add another legal layer to what is longstanding policy. This is trying to solve a problem that isn’t really a problem. Enshrining it in the constitution is pointless, and we recommend a NO vote.
• AMENDMENT 8 — This amendment would repeal the current state ban on taxpayer money going to religious groups, with private school vouchers being the unstated object. In a time when public schools are cash-strapped, dramatically expanding school vouchers is not good public policy. In addition, the wording is so broad it is not limited to school vouchers, leaving it wide open to interpretation. The word “school” isn’t included. We recommend voting NO.
• AMENDMENT 9 — This is similar to Amendment 2 but would give additional homestead exemptions to spouses of military members or first responders killed in the line of duty. While we don’t have any particular objection to this, we don’t know that it is necessary to warrant amending the state constitution. Given the small number of people this would benefit, the price tag won’t be much of a burden. It is another feel-good measure without much of a downside. We support voting YES on this item.
• AMENDMENT 10 — This business-related amendment would raise the current $25,000 tangible personal property tax exemptions to $50,000. A decade ago, dramatic cuts were made to the tangible tax, and this would pile on more. While it would help some businesses, most do not own that much equipment and wouldn’t see the benefit. We believe it’s probably not worth the additional burden on revenues. We recommend voting NO.
• AMENDMENT 11 — Again, like amendments 2 and 9, this would extend an additional exemption, this time to seniors who are longtime homeowners. Yet another feel-good amendment, our opinion is the same here — while we don’t feel it is necessary, we’re not particularly opposed to it either. We support voting YES on this item.
• AMENDMENT 12 — This would create a council of state university student body presidents and appoint the council’s chair to the State University System Board of Governors. It is supported by large universities such as Florida State University, which feels underrepresented through the current system. While we don’t favor using the constitution to address this issue, we’re not particularly opposed to it.
Regardless of whether you agree with our opinions, we encourage everyone to get out and vote in the Nov. 6 general election. Our democracy depends on it!