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Nancy Smith

COUNTERPOINT: Amendment 1 a Nightmare for Conservative-Thinking Floridians

June 5, 2014 - 6:00pm

Look closely at the pretty words in Amendment 1, the Water and Land Conservation Amendment. I think you'll find what I did -- the polar opposite of conservative values and common sense.

Passing Amendment 1 will not -- repeat, not -- guarantee a no-tax-increase future for a clean water supply, or anything else, in Florida as its proponents claim. Quite the opposite. In a state where population is projected to grow to 30 million by 2035, there is no sure-thing magic bullet to funding every priority in 67 counties.

What Amendment 1 will guarantee is that for the next 20 years, many other urgent priorities will go begging.

Let's look at an honest financial analysis of this misleading amendment:

It would embed in the Florida Constitution for 20 years 33 percent of net revenues from the existing excise tax on documents.

Proponents claim all that will do is replace the minimum $300 million a year the Florida Forever program provided from 1990 through 2008.

Don't believe it.

Mark Hendrickson, president of the Hendrickson Co., is the state's guru of doc stamps -- of anything affordable housing, including finance and related legislative issues. Before he launched the Hendrickson Co., he served six governors as executive director of two different Florida housing finance agencies (HFAs). Hendrickson knows how state government works and best of all, knows when Florida taxpayers are getting the shaft.

Hendrickson explained in steps why Amendment 1 has crushing ramifications:

1. "Doc stamp collection goes up and down," he said, "depending on real estate activity. But (Amendment 1) locks in 33 percent of revenues for environmental programs. That's not 1 percent of the budget. It will vary every year."

2. "To get their 33 percent, they took what has been fairly level environmental spending and divided it by one of the lowest doc stamp collection years, then they say, 'Oh, look, 33 percent only gives us our usual spending.'"

3. "They're locking in significantly more money than their historic averages. It's money that in the revenue projections going forward was heading into general revenue. It's going to put a big hole in the general revenue budget."

4. "To put real numbers on that 33 percent in the last fiscal year, it's $425 million. Project out to 2015-2016, you're up to $550 million; in 2021, well over $700 million. They're acting like they're only getting their current fair share, but they're locking in significantly more than they ever had before."

5. "It's very clever the way they say they're just getting their share. They claim the debt service on their bonds comes from general revenue now. But between now and next year, the bond will be paid off and the debt service will drop massively. This year the budget has $430 million in it to pay environmental lands debt service, but next year it will drop to $173 million. The Legislature may think they're getting back $257 million, but they won't."

6. "In the end, what happens is, when there's a shortfall in general revenue, as there will be, legislators will be forced to look for money somewhere else. That's when they start deepening their raids on trust funds. They have no choice."

Embedding in the Constitution payouts of vast percentages of revenue is no way to budget state priorities, and it certainly isn't remotely conservative.

After 9/11, the state lost a large chunk of its tourism income for months on end. In 2005, lawmakers plowed money into hurricane recovery. Disasters happen. Unforeseen circumstances arise. But the more things we treat like the Class Size Amendment -- and now, maybe, land acquisition -- the more it sews up taxpayer dollars and the fewer options it gives lawmakers to dig their way out of emergencies without beheading other priorities.

There are other reasons to roundly dislike Amendment 1 -- for example, the glut of publicly held land it will create because, after all, the Constitution will tell us we must buy land. Not only will chunks of it come off the tax rolls, it must all be maintained -- and that will be a sizable taxpayer expenditure. I plan to write more about that before Voting Day.

For now, just ask yourself, how many more expenditures are we going to find to seal up in the Constitution? What will the next one be? Taxpayers need to mount an offensive of their own against built-in-forever, pay-up-front causes du jour like the Vote Yes on Amendment 1 Campaign.

I feel confident that when Florida voters understand the full implications of this fiscal mess of an amendment -- never mind the assault on the state Constitution and budgeting process -- they will vote a resounding "No."

Much of the information in this column was first reported in a May 15, 2013 Nancy Smith column,"'No' to Budgeting Through the Constitution." Reach Smith at sunshinestatenews.com or at 228-282-2423.

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