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2018 Ballot Amendment Preview

Business Voice Political Committee is group of diverse businesses from across the region.  They are a non-partisan group that believes the only way to make a difference in the political process is to be involved and informed.  To that end, they have compiled a 2018 Election Guide to provide insight to local voters as they research local races and the 13 statewide ballot amendments.

You read that right, 13 ballot amendments.  In addition to the three amendments placed on the November general election ballot by the Florida Legislature, there are two amendments brought up by the citizen petition process and eight by the Florida Constitutional Review Committee.

These are all amendments to our state constitution, the document that outlines how state and local governments are organized and outlines the rights of the people.   Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Kenneth B. Bell recently wrote that “if weighed in words, Florida’s constitution is obese.”

While the United States Constitution has just 8,770 words (4,543 words when adopted in 1787), the Florida Constitution has over 44,000 words. In comparison, the average state constitution has 26,000 words.

So, before adding more weight to the Florida Constitution, all voters should take the time to research and understand these issues thoroughly.

Visit www.businessvoicepac.com to view more detailed assessments of these amendments, including the political background on each one, lists of those supporting or opposing each amendment, and links to other sources and media coverage discussing the issues.

Amendment 1: Homestead Exemption Increase Amendment

The Florida Legislature placed Amendment 1 on the 2018 general election ballot. If approved by the voters, it will expand existing homestead property tax exemptions. Currently, there is a full Homestead Exemption on the first $25,000 of assessed property value. There is no exemption on the value between $25,000 and $50,000. The “Second Exemption” is for the value between $50,000 and $75,000. There is no exemption on the value between $75,000 and $100,000. The proposed Amendment 1, also referred to as the “Third Exemption,” would exempt the value between $100,000 and $125,000.

Not all homeowners would see a decrease of their tax bill; only those with homes valued over $100,000, estimated to be 65 percent of Florida homeowners. The impact of Amendment 1 is expected to cost $644.7 million per year— meaning local governments will collect less revenue from property taxes. Local governments argue this will result in either service reductions or tax hikes on other non-exempt properties.

Localities and associations like the Florida Association of Counties and Florida City and County Management Association are adamantly opposing Amendment 1.  The Florida League of Cities states: “Amendment 1 isn’t what it seems. The Tallahassee politicians call it a tax break, but it’s really a tax SHIFT. … the benefits of Amendment 1 will only apply to some homeowners, and shift the burden of paying taxes to all other citizens. … Florida’s property tax system is a complicated mess and Amendment 1 makes it worse, more complicated and less fair—shifting a bigger burden onto small business owners, manufacturers and working families.”

Amendment 2:  Limitation on Property Tax Assessments

The Florida Legislature voted to place this amendment on the ballot to make permanent the limit property tax increases on non-homestead properties. This provision was first put in place in 2008, when voters passed the non-homestead 10 percent tax cap. This safeguard has helped to stem the multi-billion dollar tax shift from homestead to non-homestead properties.

For example, prior to the non-homestead tax cap, nearly three out of four non-homestead properties in Florida had tax increases of more than 10 percent year to year. In 2006, 30 percent of non-homestead properties were hit with an 80 percent hike from just the year before.

This cap is scheduled to expire on January 1, 2019. If the amendment were to fail, and the provision were to expire, it could result in Floridians paying as much as $700 million more in property taxes annually, according to a study done by Florida TaxWatch.

Business Voice, the Florida Realtors and the Florida Chamber of Commerce are all actively supporting Amendment 2.

“Making the 10 percent non-homestead tax cap permanent in Florida impacts everybody in the state. It allows business owners to plan for the future by having a better grasp on their budgets, so they can expand and create more jobs. It helps renters continue to afford their housing as they save to one day purchase a home,” said Carrie O’Rourke, vice president of public policy for the Florida Association of REALTORS.

NOTE:  The Florida League of Women Voters opposes Amendments 1 and 2, taking the position that “no tax sources or revenue should be specified, limited, exempted, or prohibited in the constitution.”

Amendment 3: Voter Approval of Casino Gambling Initiative

The initiative was put on the ballot via petition and is being supported mainly by a group called Voters in Charge. https://votersincharge.org/. The purpose of this initiative is to add an amendment to the state constitution saying that all Floridians have the right to decide whether to authorize casino gambling anywhere in Florida (slot machines, blackjack, craps, roulette, etc.), as opposed to the state Legislature or individual counties. Under current law, the Legislature could vote to approve new casinos with a simple majority, although such legislative efforts in recent years – including this year – have mostly failed.

Amendment 3 would require another constitutional amendment, through a citizen’s initiative only, for any new casino gambling in Florida. A citizen’s initiative is the process of gathering signatures to place an amendment on the ballot.  It also requires 60 percent of those voting to approve an amendment.

Amendment 3 would effectively stop the Legislature from either passing laws to allow casino gambling or placing its own casino amendments on the ballot. It also would preclude the Constitutional Review Committee, which meets every 20 years, from putting casino amendments on the ballot.

Amendment 4: Voting Rights Restoration for Felons Initiative

This initiative was put on the ballot via a petition drive conducted by one of the support organizations, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition. The purpose of this amendment is to immediately give voting rights back to felons after they completed all terms of their sentence. As of right now, felons have to wait until and unless a state board restores their individual voting rights. This initiative would not include any one convicted of a felony murder or sexual offense.

Florida is one of only four states that still has a system that excludes so many people from voting; a formal Yes campaign, Floridians for Second Chances, believes it is time to fix this.

An official political organization against this measure is Floridians for a Sensible Voting Rights Policy. The executive director says they oppose this measure because “it [the initiative] treats all other felonies [felonies that are not murder or sexual sexual offense] as though they were the same. It’s a blanket, automatic restoration of voting rights.”

Amendment 5: Two-Thirds Vote of Legislature to Increase Taxes or Fees Amendment

This amendment was put on the ballot and proposed by Governor Rick Scott in his last State of the State Address. This amendment would require a two-thirds majority of each chamber (house and senate) of the state Legislature for any state tax or fee to be raised, or a new one enacted. This amendment would also require that a bill enacting a new tax or increasing an existing tax or fee contain no other subject, meaning the bill would have the only the proposed tax, no riders attached.

While increasing the threshold to pass a tax would guarantee needing a larger coalition for passage, it could also be said that it empowers a minority of legislators to oppose such efforts. This amendment applies only to the state Legislature, and the two-thirds requirement would not be imposed on local governing bodies, school boards, or taxes proposed through state or local initiative process.

Amendments 6 – 13 were placed on the ballot by the Constitutional Review Commission 

The Florida Legislature created the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) in 1968 to be an independent body that would meet every 20 years to make suggested changes and additions to the state Constitution. The commission holds hearings and public debates before they draft proposed changes to our constitution for inclusion on a general election ballot.

Florida is the only state in the nation to have such a process.  The 2018 CRC and resulting amendments highlight why many criticize this process as a giant boondoggle.

The CRC ended up combining more than one issue into each amendment, meaning they address multiple topics, almost always unrelated, and force voters to make tough choices.  While the CRC says this was in order to keep the already long ballot shorter, many are blatant attempts to link an unpopular issue with a more palatable issue in hopes support for that carries the day.

The Business Voice Board of Directors voted to oppose all eight of these amendments out of principle: the 2018 CRC proposals disrespect both voters and our constitution.

If you’d like to read more about each of the amendments visit www.businessvoicepac.com.

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SpaceCoast Business

SpaceCoast Business magazine has become one of the most trusted voices for and about the Brevard business community. Each month through our print and digital platforms, we provide access to meet, to learn from and to learn about some of the incredible entrepreneurs and business leaders, along with economic trends that are shaping our county.

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