Of the 11 amendments placed on the November 2012 ballot by the Sunshine States Republican-dominated Legislature, perhaps the strangest is the third: Almost no one seems willing to go on the record to defend it.
The Florida State Revenue Limitation Amendment (Amendment 3), if approved by 60 percent of the voters, would change the way the state calculates limitations on the amount of revenue it can raise each year.
Under provisions in place in the Florida Constitution since 1995, the amount of revenue the state is allowed to raise is determined by a formula that takes into account the total personal income of all Florida residents. If the state collects more revenue than its permitted to under this formula, the remainder is deposited in a budget stabilization (or rainy day) emergency fund, and once that fund reaches its cap, any excess funds are returned to taxpayers in the form of tax decreases or lower fees.
Since 1995, state revenues have never exceeded these constitutionally mandated caps, and have not even come close to doing so since about 1999, except in fiscal year 2005-06.
Supporters of Amendment 3 insist that the current provisions are not effective limits on the raising of government revenues, and what they propose is their amendments stricter formula based on inflation and annual population growth. Under the amendment, revenues raised in excess of the new limitation would be deposited in the rainy day fund, and once that funds caps are reached would be given to public school districts or back to taxpayers in the form of tax reductions.
If Amendment 3 had been in place since 1994, the state would have exceeded revenue limitations in fiscal years 2004-05 and 2005-06.
Opponents insist that Amendment 3, by pre-emptively tying the hands of future legislators, might drastically reduce the ability of the state of Florida to meet the needs of its citizens.
First of all, Amendment 3 binds government in the future to what the Legislature today believes it will need, says state Senate minority whip Maria Sachs, D-Delray Beach, in an interview with Sunshine State News. If this thing passes, what that means is that the government could not adjust its revenue or its budget to the needs of the people in the future. This first came up in Florida in 2008, but there were enough Democrats in the House that it didnt go through. Now, with this overwhelming majority of Republicans in both bodies of the Legislature, they passed some ridiculous legislation, and this is one of them.
Sachs referred Sunshine State News to what she and other opponents say is the disastrous precedent of a similar effort in Colorado, whose voters passed their version of this legislation, a Taxpayer Bill of Rights (TABOR), in 1992. Critics point out that these limitations seriously impaired Colorados funding for state services when the recession hit.
Supporters of Amendment 3 insist that their proposed measure works out the kinks in the Colorado version in at least three respects:
- TABOR places caps on all government revenue, including county and municipal, whereas Amendment 3 only affects that collected by the state.
- TABOR set annual limits on revenue based on revenue collected the previous year, rather than basing the cap on the previous years limit, as Amendment 3 does. In Colorado, when revenues fell below the established cap during a recession, the following years limit was calculated based on those lower levels, resulting in a ratcheting down effect that was nearly impossible to overcome in subsequent years. In 2010, Colorados voters amended TABOR to limit revenues the way Amendment 3 would do for Florida.
- TABOR only allows the state to increase revenues beyond its caps if the voters so approve it. Floridas Amendment 3 allows the Legislature to respond to emergencies by a supermajority vote of both the Florida House of Representatives and the Florida Senate.
While the amendment clearly has its Floridian supporters -- including the state's leading business organizations and just about every Florida Republican legislator Sunshine State News had a difficult time finding anyone willing to go on the record defending it.
Spokespersons for the measure's supporters declined to comment on it, aside from verbally signifying their organizations backing. And none of the half-dozen Republican legislators contacted was available to interview on the matter, though chief Senate sponsor Ellyn Setnor Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale, did contribute a guest op-ed for Sunshine State News.
Sachs says shes under the impression that public supporters of Amendment 3 might be backing off from their initial support, possibly because the measure is not popular with constituents who are not so conservative-leaning.
Absolutely, [supporters] are having second thoughts, Sachs says. And the reason is, when you leave the rarefied air of the capital, Tallahassee, and you come down back to your constituents, you realize that the people dont like this type of legislation. And then they pull back from it.
Ive tried to get people to come out and speak for Amendment 3, so we could have a dialogue, she continues. I think its healthy to have a dialogue. But I havent found anyone down here [in South Florida] to speak on its behalf!
Sachs is urging voters to heed the recommendations of several nonpartisan institutions that are opposing the amendment.
Look at who supported Amendment 3, and look at the groups who are against it. You are a reflection of the people you hang with, she insists. When you look at the proponents of this bill, you can see that all their interest is in a right-wing conservative type of government. And when you look at the groups who are against it, you see groups like AARP and the League of Women Voters, who are neither Democratic nor Republican. I was at a Florida League of Cities meeting recently, very bipartisan in fact, there are more Republicans than there are Democrats and not one of them would stand up and say anything for this amendment.
I have a feeling this is going to be one that is going to fail, and it should fail.
Reach Eric Giunta at email@example.com or at (850) 737-0859.