The Gainesville Institute: Understanding the amendments
Published: Thursday, November 1, 2012 at 8:42 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, November 1, 2012 at 8:42 a.m.
The Gainesville Institute is a Florida not-for-profit organization which was formed by a group of concerned Alachua County residents, including educators, business men and women, attorneys, physicians and other professionals. It is an organization of politically independent people who seek to enlighten the electorate in our county and region, and to offer productive, practical solutions to current community issues. The Institute hereby offers its interpretation of this year’s constitutional amendments and tax initiatives on the election ballot for the upcoming election. The board has tried to examine each item from a nonpartisan point of view and share the opposing views toward each item. In the end, each voter will have to decide how to vote based on his or her individual understanding of the initiatives, and how each will affect each voter financially.
No. 1: This proposed amendment might aptly be named the anti-affordable care act, or anti-Obamacare act. As regards this proposed amendment, if you like Obamacare, you might want to vote NO, and if you dislike Obamacare, you might want to vote YES.
Your vote for or against this proposed constitutional amendment will make little difference, as this area of the law, based upon the Roberts Supreme Court decision earlier this year and under the Federal Supremacy Clause, a Florida constitutional override of this law will be virtually meaningless.
No. 2: Military veterans who were Florida residents when they entered military service, and who are disabled as a result of military combat, already enjoy enhanced homestead benefits on their homes in Florida. This amendment would extend those same benefits to veterans who have combat related disabilities and own homes in Florida, but, who were not Florida residents when they entered military service. We all owe a sincere debt to all of our combat disabled military veterans, and to extend property tax benefits to such individuals helps assuage that public debt. However, passage of this amendment will lessen the tax revenues available to virtually all, if not all, counties in Florida.
Generally, and from a non-emotional standpoint, the majority of property tax payers in Florida will not benefit financially from this amendment. If passed, Florida’s combat disabled veterans who were not Florida veterans when they entered military service, but who now own homestead property in Florida will gain financially from this amendment. Those who do not pay real estate taxes will likely think it is a good idea. In the end, this is a vote based on the perception of what Floridians owe to combat disabled veterans who were not Florida residents when they entered military service, but have relocated to Florida after the conclusion of their military service. The Institute cannot quantify this and this vote for or against this proposed amendment boils down to a personal decision of each voter.
No. 3: Since 1994, the State of Florida has had certain revenue collection limitations, which are based upon personal income growth within the state. Floridians’ incomes have increased enough since 1994 so that the State has not pierced this cap. This proposed constitutional change would change the way in which the cap is calculated, so that instead of being tied to personal income growth, it would be instead tied to inflation and population changes. The support for the change comes from various groups seeking to impose an actual or practical limit on state revenues, and opponents of the new cap believe it would damage a number of state funded programs. Absolutely no one really knows how this change will actually affect Florida tax revenues, and the spending of those revenues in the future.
If you believe that there should be more limits on your State government’s ability to tax its citizens, and how collected revenues may be spent, and that the State should learn to operate with less, as opposed to more, you should probably be in favor (YES) of this amendment. If you believe in fewer limits on the State’s ability to tax its citizens, or how state tax revenues, once collected, are to be spent to operate State government, then you should probably vote against (NO) this amendment.
No. 4: This is an extremely lengthy and complex constitutional amendment. Basically, this amendment would financially benefit property owners and first time homebuyers in Florida. It would allow the Florida legislature to limit or prevent the annual assessed value of homestead and certain non-homestead properties from increasing if the market value of the property is less than it was the previous year. This amendment would also reduce the current limitation on annual changes in the assessment on non-homestead real estate from 10% to 5%. This amendment also provides some additional tax relief to first time homebuyers and to those who have not owned homestead property during the previous three years. Those who support this amendment believe that it will stimulate a horribly depressed real estate market in Florida. Those who oppose it say it will reduce revenues available to Florida’s counties for a variety of publically funded programs. There are so many different proposals in this one amendment that most people, if they read it carefully, can find parts of it that they favor, and parts of it that they do not.
As written, those who pay real estate taxes in Florida will clearly benefit from this proposal, and those who do not pay such taxes likely will not. In the end, these two distinctions will likely determine their YES or NO vote.
No. 5: Presently, Florida’s Supreme Court justices are appointed by the Governor, from a list of proposed nominees provided to the Governor by a Judicial Nominating Commission. It is from this list of nominees that the Governor selects those to serve on Florida’s Supreme Court. Once the Governor appoints a judge from the list, such Florida Supreme Court justice then serves on that high court without any approval required by either branch of the Florida legislature. Under this proposed amendment, if passed, any appointment by the Governor to the Florida Supreme Court would require the approval of the Senate, much like Presidential appointments to the United States Supreme Court require approval of the U. S. Senate.
In addition, presently the Florida Supreme Court is solely responsible for the adoption of and changes to the rules of procedure in Florida’s criminal and civil courts. However, a rule of the court may be repealed by a two-thirds vote of both the Florida House of Representatives and the Florida Senate. Amendment 5 proposes to change this two-thirds supermajority requirement to a simple majority vote of each branch of the legislature to repeal a court rule.
This proposed amendment would also allow the Florida House of Representatives access to records of complaints against Florida judges much earlier in the prosecutorial process than they are entitled to at this time.
Acceptance of this amendment to the Florida Constitution would signal a fundamental shift in the power in this state between the Judicial, Executive and Legislative branches of Florida’s government. Some believe it represents a genuine threat to the independence of the Florida judicial branch of government, and that it is essentially a power grab by the Legislative branch of Florida’s government. Others believe it provides an additional constitutional check and balance system that prevents the executive branch of our Florida government from totally controlling who is allowed to sit on the Supreme Court of this state.
If you believe that the independence of the Florida court system is essential to the separation of powers in our State, then you should vote no on this proposed constitutional amendment
If you do not believe that the independence of the judicial branch of government is an important element of the checks and balances of our state government, then you should vote YES on this proposed constitutional amendment.
No. 6: This proposed amendment would affect a number of legal issues in Florida related to abortions, and the use of public funds in paying for abortions in Florida. It also involves the State constitutional privacy protections related to abortions.
If you hold strong views of a pro-life nature, or, if you hold pro-choice views, but do not believe that tax dollars should be used to fund abortions, you should probably vote in favor (YES) of this constitutional amendment.
If you hold strong pro-choice views, and believe that tax dollars should be used to fund abortions, you should probably vote against (NO) this constitutional amendment.
No. 7: This proposed amendment was stricken from the ballot
No.8: The present long-standing law in Florida is that state funds may not be used to fund any religious organization, or, in support of any organization that promotes religion. Although not specifically stated in the proposed amendment, the purpose of the amendment is to allow for school voucher programs or other school choice programs to allow participation in those programs of both religious and secular schools. Arguments against the amendment, beyond basic U.S. constitutional challenges are based upon public funds being diverted from state run educational institutions to private schools that some believe are better equipped to provide meaningful education to Florida’s children.
If you are not convinced that Florida’s children are receiving all they should in the way of education, and believe that competition between, and choice of, schools is good for the children of Florida, then you will probably want to vote in favor of (YES) on this amendment. If you are satisfied with the current state run educational system in Florida, you will probably want to vote against (NO) this amendment.
No. 9: As in the case of proposed amendment number 2, this amendment is an emotional one that involves those who have given their lives either in the military, or at home as police officers, firemen and other first responders. This proposed amendment would permit the Florida legislature to pass either a total or partial exemption from homestead property taxes for the surviving spouse of any military veteran who dies from service connected causes while on active duty, or, of any first responder who dies in the line of duty. While the proposed amendment defers power to the legislature to add the flesh to the skeleton of the amendment, it could come to pass that the laws to be passed would represent a total exemption for such spouse, so long as he or she owns the property. There are no financial limits imposed on the legislature under this amendment, and thus, if such homestead were worth several million dollars, the legislature may well declare it to be totally exempt. Again, while the emotionalism of this proposed amendment is compelling, those against the amendment correctly point out that it would limit county real estate tax revenues.
If you are a real property owner who pays taxes, from the strictly economic point of view, you may wish to vote against (No) on this amendment. If you are a non- real estate owner, or , even if you are, and you have strong feelings about society’s obligation to the spouse of those who die in the line of duty, you may wish to vote in favor of (Yes) this amendment.
No. 10: Only Florida businesses and business owners pay tangible personal property taxes on non-real estate property (personal property) used in the operation of their business. Non-business owners of personal property used in their personal lives do not pay an annual property tax on such property. Presently there is an exemption on the first $25,000.00 of such property. This proposed amendment seeks to increase that exemption to $50,000.00, and to allow your county or city government to grant other tangible personal property exemptions should they choose. We are unaware as to how many years the $25,000.00 exemption has been in effect, but no doubt, it has been quite a few. Years ago $25,000.00 covered a great deal more tangible personal property that it does today.
Those against this amendment cite only a reduction in annual county revenues as support for their opposition. Business owners, especially in the depressed economy of Florida today cite the necessity of tax relief as a basis for their support of the proposed amendment. How should you vote?
If you are in business, or you work for a business which pays your wages, or, if you merely believe that the county, city and school district in which you live should be more responsible with the money they take from taxpayers each year, you will probably want to vote in favor (YES) of for this proposed constitutional amendment.
However, if you are satisfied that your county or city government, or your school board is a good steward of the tax money each receives annually, or, you don’t believe that Florida’s businesses need all the financial help they can get in the way of tax relief, then you may wish to vote against (NO) on this amendment.
No. 11: This proposed amendment would allow the Florida legislature to pass laws to permit Florida’s low income residents who are 65 or older, who have owned and resided on his, her or their homestead for not less than 25 years to be granted an additional homestead tax exemption of up to, but not more than $250,000.00. Because of the rise over the years of the value of many residential properties (not recently, but over time) many senior citizens on fixed incomes find it difficult, and in some cases, impossible, to pay the annual tax levy on their homesteads, and truly need the kind of tax relief that this proposed amendment would grant.
This amendment also speaks to the basic nature of the ownership of private property. As is, once the property mortgage is satisfied, an individual is obligated to pay property taxes in perpetuity prompting the question: does anyone really ever own their property?
If you are a senior citizen, or ever expect to become one and you own property, you might want to vote in favor (YES) of this amendment. If, however, you believe that your county, city or school board spends the tax dollars it receives responsibly, and object to any decrease in such revenues flowing to such government entities, you may wish to vote against (NO) on this proposed constitutional amendment.
No. 12: Unless you happen to be the student body president of one of Florida’s universities, you probably do not believe this proposed amendment is of value to Floridians as a whole. It also begs the question as to what constitutional amendments are designed to accomplish. Should they be used to enact activities and grant powers that are actually within the purview of the state’s legislative body? The Institute has no position or interpretation on this proposed amendment. Finally, everyone voting on constitutional amendments should consider well the fact that the constitution of any state or nation is not something to be trifled with, because once something becomes a part of the constitution, it is much more difficult to change in the future than are mere legislative acts.
Ballot Tax Initiatives
Question 1: This issue centers around arguments between those who believe government has exhibited a lack of responsible management of tax money over the past years and those who believe that the tax money has been appropriately spent. The main argument being, that tax money has been spent on numerous nonessential projects while the infrastructure of the public roads has fallen into disrepair. The details of the argument put forward is that in Alachua County there is a tax system already in place to provide revenue necessary to pay for the numerous necessary functions of county government. These functions include improvements of the roads, but, that in past years these funds were redirected by your county government and spent on non-essential county projects instead of being spent for the upkeep of roads. As a result, citizens again see the specter of another special use tax in our county that has an expiration date 15 years into the future.
If you believe that local government has a duty to use tax revenues to provide for necessary services and you do not believe that you should reward inappropriate spending of tax dollars for “feel good” projects by raising taxes then you will want to vote NO on this question.
On the other hand, if you believe that those collecting taxes do not need to be responsible for how public funds are spent and do not believe it important to send a message to those in office that they have an ethical, as well as a legal, responsibility to keep financial faith with the people who fund government, then you might wish to vote YES on question number one.
Question 2: This tax initiative is similar to the first tax initiative, in that, it raises the question as to whether or not it is the responsibility of the Alachua County School Board to operate the public schools within a budget, based upon actual revenues. It also raises the question of whether or not the tax money allocated to the school board is being effectively spent and is there enough revenue to accomplish the goals of the school board without renewing this tax. The justification for the continued tax is couched in terms of the spending being allocated to school nurses, elementary music programs, K-12 school library programs, K–12 guidance programs, middle and high school band and chorus programs, academic/career technical magnet programs, and to update classroom technology. These are all appropriate things on which a school board ought to be spending money, but one would think that these programs are core responsibilities of the school board, and should be funded already within their budget. It begs the question as to what metrics are used to justify spending and are spending programs ever unfunded if the goals of the original spending are not met.
If you believe that there should be no cap on the amount a school board ought to be able to spend regardless of revenues allocated then you will want to vote YES on question number two.
On the other hand, if you believe that the School Board has an obligation to objectively assess the positive or negative outcomes of educational spending and reallocate revenue accordingly, then you may wish to vote NO on question number 2.
Dr. Larry N. Smith, MD,
C. Gary Moody
The Gainesville Institute
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