Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Amendments – Part 1

Florida voters are being asked to vote on six amendments to the Florida Constitution in this election, each of which must be ratified by at least 60 percent of the voters in order to pass. If you ask me, amending the Constitution is a strange way to legislate. But that’s Florida. Since 1968, Florida’s Constitution has been amended well over 100 times.

These are the amendments we are being asked to vote on this year, and how I plan to vote. Unless otherwise noted via hyperlink, the background information provided is from the League of Women Voters of Florida’s Guide to the 2010 Amendments, which I highly recommend.

Amendment 1: Repeal of public financing requirement (I will vote NO)

This amendment, sponsored by the Florida Legislature, would repeal the public campaign financing requirement of the Florida Constitution. The purpose of public campaign financing is to make it possible for more citizens to run for office and to offset the undue influence that private campaign contributions may bring. If you like what’s happened to campaign spending as a result of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizen’s United case, you’ll like this amendment.

Florida has had public campaign financing since 1997, when 64 percent of voters approved adding it to the Constitution.

Relatively speaking, we’re not talking a lot of money: candidates for governor and the four Cabinet offices received a total of $11 million in public funds to finance campaigns in 2006. To put this in perspective, Rick Scott, Republican candidate for governor, has already spent $60 million of his own money on this campaign. Even with public campaign financing, how can ordinary folks hope to compete?

Unfortunately the voters left it to the Legislature to set the campaign spending limits that candidates who accept public financing must adhere to. In 2005, the Legislature selfishly increased the spending limits by more than 300 percent. Today candidates can spend up to $24.9 million in the gubernatorial race and up to $12.5 million in other Cabinet races and still qualify for public campaign financing in Florida!

Supporters of the amendment who want to outlaw public financing argue that the funds could be put to better use and help with the state's needs. The more libertarian object to being taxed to support candidates in general. In its editorial in support of the amendment, nwfdailynews.com writes:

... Florida taxpayers are free to support the political candidates of their choice by donating money, volunteering to canvass neighborhoods and so on. They should not be required to support, with their taxes, the campaigns of candidates they don’t like or know nothing about.
While I think the current spending caps are too high and would like to see them lowered, I think some public financing is better than none at all. I will vote NO on Amendment 1.

Amendment 2: Homestead ad valorem tax credit for deployed military personnel (I will vote NO)

This amendment, sponsored by the Florida Legislature, would reduce property taxes for members of the military who were deployed outside the United States in the previous year on active duty.

Abe Skinner, Collier County’s property appraiser, presented this amendment at a Forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Collier County, the Naples Daily News and others on October 12, calling it a “no brainer.” He said, “This amendment, if passed, is going to help our military personnel and their families by giving them an additional amount on their homestead exemption.”

While I greatly appreciate the sacrifices made by our military personnel and their families, there are lots of people and causes I would like to support. The fact is if we provide this tax exemption, the state will have to take funds away from something else or raise our taxes to generate the lost revenue.
The League of Women Voters of Florida also recommends a NO vote on this amendment, but for a different reason: “The League believes no tax sources or revenues should be specified, limited, exempted, or prohibited in the Constitution.” (For League positions on all the ballot amendments, click here.)

Amendment 4: Referenda required for adoption and amendment of local government comprehensive land use plan (I will vote NO)

This amendment would add an additional step to the current process of amending a comprehensive land use plan or adopting a new land use plan by local government. Specifically, after the current process has been gone through and the requisite number of members of the local governing body (county commission or city council) has approved the comp plan amendment or new plan, the amendment or new plan would then have to be approved by the public by referendum.

The amendment was brought to the ballot by petition organized by a group called Florida Hometown Democracy, Inc., PAC. The initiative was led by a land use attorney and an environmental attorney with backing from groups such as the Sierra Club of Florida.

Supporters of Hometown Democracy are frustrated with the growth management decisions made by their elected officials, and they want a way to stop some of them from taking effect. According to the Hometown Democracy website:
The atmosphere of corruption and distrust in local government can be changed by giving taxpayers [the] final veto or approval on new projects and changes to existing developments, based on recommendations from the County Commission.
The Florida League of Cities, the Florida Association of Counties and the Florida Chamber of Commerce are among the groups that oppose the amendment, as does the Collier County Democratic Party. The Dems write:

Proponents claim that there is too much influence on the part of developers and others in having plans amended to suit their purposes. On the other hand, if we cannot expect good stewardship from our elected representatives, why are they voted into office? This amendment will mean gathering the hundreds of changes requested into existing ballot schedules, delaying sometimes urgent matters and making ballots even more complex. Will voters give an informed opinion on each of the many, many questions?
This amendment would also add cost for referendum elections and could slow the comprehensive land use process. It would also introduce the potential for political advertising to influence referendum voting on land use decision. Can’t you just imagine it?

In my opinion, if you don’t like the decisions being made by your elected officials, vote them out and vote someone else in. I will vote NO on amendment 4.

Tomorrow I will post about amendments 5, 6 and 8, and early in the week I’ll tell you how I’ll vote for School Board District 1, describe the issues I’ve been struggling with, and how I reached my decision.

As for when to vote, I’m still waiting, although the odds of one of the candidates dropping out remain slim. The last day of early voting is next Saturday, October 30th. The last day to request an absentee ballot to be mailed to you is this Wednesday, October 27th; after that, you can pick one up at the Supervisor of Elections Office. For details, click here.

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