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Oct
11

Editorial 609


Missy Layfield - Editor

Are you ready to vote?

Do you know how you want to vote for any office beyond President, Senator and Congress?

The ballot you will vote is four pages long, both sides, so you’re looking at 8 pages of decisions. This election is one that definitely calls for taking your notes into the voting booth.

We’ve been highlighting the races for Beach Fire and Library Board positions, as well as County Sheriff, School Board, Commissioner and Lee Memorial Health System Board. We’ve given those candidates the opportunity to answer questions and provide guest opinion articles in their own words so that our readers hear directly from the candidates.

Aside from those races, the ballot also includes retention decisions on seven Supreme Court and District Appeals Court judges and a slot machine referendum.

The remaining 6 pages are devoted to the 11 Constitutional Amendment proposals.

This year all 11 amendments were put on the ballot by the Legislature. They cover everything from health insurance to taxes to religion. Though you can’t always accept the name of the amendment as being representative of what it will do if passed. The Legislature has a tendency to "pretty up” these things so people who don’t dig into the fine print will glance at the title and think, "Oh yeah, that sounds like a good idea.” And vote yes. Someday I’m expecting them to propose an amendment and label it the "Rainbows and Puppies” amendment. Who’s against rainbows and puppies?

It would take more space than I have here to delve fully into each amendment. I encourage you to stop by our office to pick up a Voter Guide that lists them all and includes an explanation of what a yes and no vote for each means. I’ll try to summarize the amendments below.

Amendment 1, labeled Health Care Services is nothing more than a political referendum. The Supreme Court has ruled that the Affordable Care Act’s individual mandate is constitutional, so voting yes on this amendment will not allow Florida to opt out of the ACA.

Amendment 2 would expand the combat-disabled veteran homestead property tax discount to disabled veterans who were not Florida residents when they entered military service. It’s estimated this would cost local governments and schools about $15 million in the first 3 years.

Amendment 3 restricts the state’s ability to raise revenue by proposing a new method of determining the revenue cap using population growth and inflation rather than personal income. Supporters say it’s needed to limit government spending. Opponents say it will limit revenue in both good and bad economic times.

Amendment 4 deals with property taxes, giving tax breaks to non-homestead properties, such as businesses and second homes. Various sources put the price tag on this amendment at $200 million the first year and over $1 billion over three years.

Amendment 5 would require the Florida Senate to approve the governor’s appointments to the Florida Supreme Court. It also would allow more legislative oversight over judicial rules. This one seems to undermine the independence of the judicial branch. Legislators are unhappy when their laws are overturned. The solution would seem to be better laws, not legislative control of the judiciary.

Amendment 6 would prohibit public funding of abortions. Federal and state law prohibits the use of public funds for most abortions now. This amendment would enshrine this prohibition in the Constitution. It could also mean that Florida’s right to privacy is not applicable in cases of abortion.

Amendment 7 was removed from the ballot and replaced by Amendment 8 that carries the name Religious Freedom, but it’s about using government funds to aid religious institutions, like schools. This separation between church and state has been in the state Constitution for 126 years for good reason.

Amendment 9 is another homestead exemption for the surviving spouse of a military veteran or first responder who died while on duty. Another tax policy in the Constitution.

Amendment 10 is yet another tax exemption, this one for business tangible personal property taxes – doubling the exemption at a cost of $61 million over the first 3 years.

Amendment 11 would allow cities and counties to grant full homestead property tax relief to low-income seniors who have lived in their home for 25 years. Proponents feel that the Save Our Homes amendment is not enough.

Amendment 12 would create a new council of student body presidents from which a rep to the Board of Governors of the State University System would be chosen. Currently the Constitution provides that the student rep be the president of the Florida Student Association. But apparently Florida State University does not want to belong to FSA like all of the other 10 schools do. Rather than tinkering with the state Constitution, how about FSU join the FSA? Why is this even on the ballot?

Of the 12 amendments, five of them are tax-related; all proposing tax breaks for various groups. Taken together, they will decrease the revenue for cities, districts and governmental entities that rely on property taxes. Everybody would like their taxes to go down. But we still need the services provided by these entities. So these tax breaks will result in the tax rates of those not in the favored groups going up or services going down. Until there is broad tax law restructuring, this kind of piecemeal approach altering the Constitution does not seem prudent. The Legislature can provide tax breaks without changing the Constitution.

I fail to see why any of these amendments rise to the level of Constitutional amendment.

Come Election Day, don’t be one of those who say they don’t know enough about the candidates or the issues to vote. Be ready - November 6th is just three weeks away.

Missy Layfield