General Election: Nov. 6
Early Voting: Monday, Oct. 22 through Sunday, Nov. 4
Bios, questionnaires, endorsements, news stories: www.jacksonville.com/election-news
Florida voters are facing a bewildering 22 issues in 12 different amendments. Many of the titles and summaries are vague or confusing.
Voting lines may be long. To help voters sort out the confusion, here are suggestions from the Times-Union Editorial Board. Our goal is to present our reasons clearly enough that voters can decide for themselves.
Also, two groups have provided good summaries of the amendments with pros and cons.
Here are their websites:
• Florida TaxWatch: tinyurl.com/y8lsy75l
• League of Women Voters: bereadytovote.org
A quick guide to our suggestions:
Yes: Amendments 2, 3, 4, 11, 13.
No: Amendments 1, 5, 6, 7, 9, 10, 12.
As another time saver, vote no on all the bundled amendments except for a yes vote on No. 11.
The Times-Union Editorial Board’s position on constitutional amendments is based on these principles:
No. 1: Amendments should only be passed if the Florida Legislature is unable or unwilling to deal with the issue.
No. 2: Bundling more than one issue in a single vote should be opposed in order to send a message to the Legislature and future Constitution Revision Commissions.
Amendments require 60 percent approval for passage.
Amendment 1: No.
The Florida Legislature has fallen into bad habits.
One bad habit is to make decisions for the entire state that undercut home rule. As every candidate who travels this large and diverse state says, one size doesn’t fit every Floridian. The low-tax conservative nature of Jacksonville is nothing like the higher-tax nature of South Florida.
Another bad legislative habit involves limiting the taxing ability of the entire state, which unfairly hurts a low-tax city like Jacksonville.
As a result, the state of Florida ranks No. 50 in collections by the state government but No. 15 in collections by local governments. In fact, Florida relies on local revenue to fund government more than any other state, reports Florida TaxWatch.
An example came in 2008 when then-Gov. Charlie Crist supported Amendment 1, which cut the taxing ability of local governments when the state was moving into a recession. That likely was aimed at the high-tax cities and counties of South Florida. The amendment failed in Duval County thanks to opposition from local leaders but it passed statewide.
Thus, Jacksonville was penalized.
Now the Legislature would like to increase the homestead exemption for the value of homes from $100,000 to $125,000. It’s clearly an election-year ploy.
As Florida TaxWatch reports, the amendment is a bad idea on several different levels.
It is unfair: It only affects about a quarter of Florida property owners. It makes an unfair property tax system even more unfair. It’s not really a tax cut, it’s a shift of the tax load from homesteaded properties to businesses and other non-homesteaded property. Thus, it’s anti-business. As our readers are so fond of pointing out, businesses will simply pass along the costs to customers.
Florida has one of the most unfair property tax systems in the nation. Homesteaded properties are assessed at just 53 percent of their value. Non-homesteaded properties are assessed at 91 percent of their value. This amendment would make the unfair system worse.
It will hurt the poor: Those with homes valued at less than $100,000 won’t benefit. And renters will be hit with increased pass-through charges.
It will hurt Jacksonville: It will either force cuts in services, an increase in revenues elsewhere or both. Jacksonville is likely to lose $28 million in property tax revenue if this passes. Under a conservative mayor and City Council, Jacksonville government is not prone to spending sprees. In addition, Duval County does not have the multiple cities and taxing districts of other Florida urban counties.
It is anti-home rule: Cities and states should be able to judge for themselves whether they want this kind of tax relief.
In a fast-growing state facing huge problems such as water issues, flooding concerns and an opioid crisis, Florida needs revenue to maintain its quality of life. But it’s an election year.
Vote no on Amendment 1 on the basis of home rule, tax equity and quality of life in Florida.
AMENDMENT 2: Yes
Amendment 2 would give a small break to those non-homesteaded properties that are being treated unfairly in Florida.
There is a 10 percent cap on the growth of assessed value of non-homesteaded property in Florida.
If this amendment fails, noted Florida TaxWatch, the cap will be lifted and business properties and others would be assessed at full market value.
Florida’s status as a business-friendly state would be undercut.
Property taxes are the No. 1 expense of businesses nationwide, and for Florida it’s worse. Property taxes represent 43 percent of all Florida taxes paid by businesses.
Vote yes for Amendment 2 as a pro-business, pro-fairness, pro-jobs measure.
AMENDMENT 3: Yes
This proposal would require any new casino gambling establishments to be approved by a citizen-led constitutional amendment.
It wouldn’t affect the Legislature’s authority over dog racing, horse racing or the Seminole Tribe casinos. Nor would it stop the state from regulating or taxing any gambling operation, including casinos.
It has a rare group of supporters, including Disney World and the Seminole Nation as well as anti-casino groups. It is opposed by someone we respect, Howard Korman of Jacksonville Greyhound Racing.
After study and interviews, we are inclined to support the amendment for three reasons:
1. We’re not confident in the Legislature’s ability to tackle this issue, especially given all the money being thrown at it from all sides.
2. Both the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the League of Women Voters support it, a rarity.
3. The proposal isn’t automatically anti-gambling or anti-casino. Between 1978 and 2004, voters approved two gambling initiatives and turned down three.
AMENDMENT 4: Yes
This passes the Times-Union’s two tests. The Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott have continued to deprive ex-offenders of their voting rights basically for life. This Jim Crow-style policy is not only cruel and unusual, but it hurts the state’s economy.
Florida has 1.6 million adults who are disenfranchised, the highest number in the nation.
Amendment 4 would restore the eligibility to vote for those who have completed all of their sentences, paid all fines and restitution and completed parole. Exceptions would be those convicted of murder and sex offenses.
Those who have had their voting rights restored are one-third less likely to reoffend. The amendment would have a positive impact of $365 million to Florida’s economy, according to a study quoted by the League of Women Voters.
It has wide support among candidates the Times-Union has interviewed for state offices.
AMENDMENT 5: No
This provision would require a two-thirds vote of the Legislature to approve new taxes or fees.
Florida already is a low-tax state. Florida is ranked No. 47 for tax burden by WalletHub. Florida has not passed a major tax increase since 2009 and has cut taxes every year since then, reports Florida TaxWatch.
But Florida also is a high-growth state. It’s unreasonable to think that growth can be managed on the cheap. Florida ranks at the bottom for mental health funding and lags in teacher pay.
Also, this amendment has no provision for emergencies.
It also increases Tallahassee’s tendency to shift all revenue burdens to local government.
AMENDMENT 6: No
There are three proposals here:
• It extends the mandatory retirement age of Florida’s Supreme Court justices from the age of 70 to 75.
• It forces courts to interpret government rules for themselves rather than give reference to government agencies (Chevron rule).
• It provides additional victims’ rights, a proposal that originated in California, called Marsy’s Law. This is the most controversial of these proposals. It fails on one of our key principles in that the Florida Legislature is perfectly willing and able to provide victims’ rights.
Dealing with the criminal justice system via the Florida Constitution is sure to create unintended consequences. Prosecutors have said that the issue would create additional unfunded costs.
AMENDMENT 7: No
This amendment fails on both of the Editorial Board’s tests. The issues:
• A supermajority vote would be needed for universities to impose new or increased student fees.
• It places in the Constitution guidelines for the Florida College System, formerly community colleges.
• It mandates that employers or the state pay a death benefit to first responders and the military killed in the line of duty.
On college fees, Florida already has one of the most affordable college systems in the nation. Tying the hands of all state colleges undercuts home rule.
Regarding death benefits, this is an apple pie issue that the legislators would be happy to support. Florida law already provides death benefits to survivors of law enforcement officers, corrections officers, firefighters and National Guard members. This would add paramedics, EMTs and members of the military stationed in the state.
Family members of the military who die in service already are compensated by the federal government.
(Amendment 8 was removed by the Florida Supreme Court.)
AMENDMENT 9: No
This involves an odd couple of issues: a ban on oil drilling off the Florida coast and a ban on e-cigarettes in public places.
This fails on both of our tests. Florida officials are nearly unanimous in opposing oil drilling off the state’s shores. And controlling smoking in public places can be handled by the Legislature.
AMENDMENT 10: No
This bundles three unrelated issues and also undercuts home rule.
The most controversial of the three issues would require all counties to elect constitutional officers like sheriff or clerk of the court. Florida has eight charter counties including Duval that could make such positions appointed. Miami-Dade County, for instance, has an appointed sheriff.
This controversial proposal was hidden amid two mundane ones (it’s called logrolling) that the Legislature is willing to handle:
• The Legislature would be required to hold its session in early January on even-numbered years, something it already does.
• An Office of Domestic Security and Counterterrorism would be created within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and a state Department of Veterans Affairs would be required.
Vote no for home rule and against bundling.
AMENDMENT 11: Yes
This involves two housekeeping issues and one smart justice reform that would save Floridians money and help reform lives.
The two housekeeping issues:
• Repeals the state’s ability to prohibit non-citizens from buying, owning or selling property, which is no longer enforced and is widely interpreted as targeting Asian immigrants.
• Deletes obsolete language referring to high-speed rail.
The substantial issue has been widely misunderstood or ignored in part due to bundling. It would remove an 1880s Jim Crow-era provision that forces the state to prosecute people under the law in effect at the time, even if the state later changes the law. So it embeds an 1880 decision for modern times. For instance, if a defendant committed certain drug offenses on June 30, 2014, he would serve a prison term five times longer than someone who committed the same offense one day later.
This smart justice reform would reduce the prison population, save the state money and provide incentives for rehabilitation.
AMENDMENT 12: No
This complex proposal needs more work. It fundamentally expands from two to six years the time that former elected officials and certain government employees can lobby state government.
This well-meaning amendment deserves more substance and more time. Why six years?
AMENDMENT 13: Yes
This amendment would ban dog racing as of Dec. 31, 2020 while continuing to allow dog tracks to offer other types of gambling such as poker rooms.
State law mandates that in order to operate certain other forms of gambling, a certain number of greyhound races must be held. The Legislature has refused to “decouple” dog racing from the other forms of gambling, thus interfering in the free market.
Because the Legislature refuses to act, amending the Constitution is the only method left.