If having to decide 11 measures, in a year when Floridians will also be selecting a president, U.S. senator, congressmen and a host of minor offices sounds complicated, consider this: at least one group has a clear recommendation on how Sunshine State voters should decide each and every one.
The League of Women Voters of Florida is urging all Floridians to give a “thumbs down” to all 11 amendments.
“We are prepared to speak about any of the amendments that are on the ballot,” said Deirdre Macnab, the president of the league. “We feel like many of them are named like the apple in the Garden of Eden – they sound so appealing when you first read about them.”
But the more you get to know, she said, the more voters are likely to understand that these proposals don’t belong in the state Constitution in the first place, she added.
“These are very complicated,” she said. “A number of them challenge our most sacred principles of separation of church and government.”
The League of Women Voters of Florida, which bills itself as a nonpartisan political organization that encourages active participation in government, held a teleconference on Thursday with the news media, to get their message out that they are urging voters not to support any of the 11 amendments, which were placed on the ballot by the state Legislature.
Amendment 5, for example, would give state lawmakers a say in the selection of judges appointed to serve on Florida’s Supreme Court.
Former state Sen. Alex Villalobos, a Miami Republican, joined the call-in conference to say this measure would unnecessarily add partisan politics and ideology into the judicial process.
“It would require Senate confirmation of Supreme Court nominations, as opposed to the present system where the governor selects the nominee,” Villalobos said. “Right now, the governor selects the persons to become justices, and this would add an additional layer of Senate confirmation. It would also allow the Legislature to repeal the rules of the court.”
Senate involvement in judicial nominations is unnecessary and only adds more politics to the entire process, he said.
“In my opinion, this is a solution in search of a problem,” Villalobos said. “This is just the Legislature trying to interfere in the actions of the courts.”
Several of the amendments — including 2, 3, 4, 9, 10, and 11 – aim to put tax limits and exemptions into the state Constitution.
Macnab said it makes more sense to pass these proposals as regular statutory law, which also makes them easier to alter in the future if there’s a financial problem confronting the state.
“Our state Constitution is not the place to put ideas that will make it impossible to remove tax exemptions in our state Constitution in the future,” she said.
Robb Gray, director of state engagement and partnerships for the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said Amendment 3 – which replaces existing revenue limits with a new limit based on inflation and population changes – would likely cause tax revenues to plummet. That would seriously threaten funding for the state’s schools, universities, roads and bridges, health programs, and public transit, he said.
Gray noted that a similar amendment approved by voters in Colorado led to drastic cuts in public services, and Colorado voters eventually opted to repeal the measure.
“Amendment 3 would make Florida a much less attractive place to work and live by undermining the state’s ability to fulfill its current responsibilities to its residents, and make long-term investments that are fundamental to future prosperity,” he said.
Likewise, the proposed Amendment 4 – a property tax limiting measure – could actually lead to tax increases at the local level to make up for that lost revenue, Gray added.
“Amendment 4 would force local governments to choose between raising taxes on large numbers of year-round Florida homeowners, making deep cuts to local services — or some combination of the two,” he said.
Passing sweeping tax cut measures into the state Constitution, he said, ties the hands of future lawmakers at both the state and local level, and will not account for changing economic conditions, he added.
“Part of the challenge is trying to legislate this through the Constitution, where it gets locked in,” he said. “Either funding is gone forever from local governments, and without any new revenue attached to it, that means property taxes will have to go up for residents. It’s not really clear if the economic impact will do what it is intended to do. Our research shows a pretty strong revenue hit for communities.”
The League is also critical of other proposals, including Amendment 6, which prohibits public funding of abortions and allow doctors to make some medical decisions on abortions, and Amendment 8, which would allow public money to be used for religious schools.
“The Constitution is a governing document, and should be left sacred to that purpose,” Macnab said. “We urge legislators to use their law-making power, and not weigh citizens down with complicated amendments that do not belong in our state’s Constitution. We urge all citizens to give these complex and inappropriate amendments a firm thumbs down.”
The League of Women Voters of Florida Education Fund has a toolkit available, and a Voter Assistance hotline that can be reached by calling 1-855-FL-VOTER (1-855-358-6837). To learn more, visit the League’s website at www.TheFloridaVoter.org.
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