It’s tough enough sorting out all the humans who want our votes this year. But amendments? There’s the sheer daunting number of them, for one thing (11, not 12, despite the fact that there’s an Amendment No. 12, we’ll explain later). Then there’s the verbiage: Amendment 4, for instance, drones on for something like 500 words. Plus, they were all proposed by members of the Florida Legislature, which means they are a) politically motivated and b) written in Legislatese, a language only distantly related to English.
Fortunately, a non-partisan, non-profit Florida organization called the Collins Center for Public Policy has done an exemplary job of explaining these proposed changes to the Florida constitution. You can and should go to their website, where you’ll find a balanced, well-researched assessment of each measure’s pros and cons.
Or… you can read the excerpts from the Collins summaries below and then consider our considerably more pointed assessments. OK, slams. Because as you’ll see, our stance on these amendments is that all 11 of them — hey, all 12 if there were 12 — deserve a definitive thumbs down.
Amendment 1: Health Care Services
Collins Center summary: This would add an amendment to the state constitution that attempts to prohibit the government from requiring individuals to purchase health insurance.
Creative Loafing assessment: If you think Obamacare is a fiendish plot to force you to buy health insurance when what you’d rather do is make the rest of us pay for your ER visits, then by all means vote yes, you paranoid freeloader. On the other hand, if you are really, really sick and tired of Pam Bondi, please, we beg of you, vote NO.
Amendment 2: Veterans’ Property Tax Discount
CC: This amendment would allow certain disabled veterans, who were not Florida residents prior to entering military service, to qualify for a discount on their property taxes.
CL: Vote NO. Because this amendment essentially says, “Come on down! We’d like to invite everybody in the military to migrate to Florida and lower our already paltry property tax revenues!”
Amendment 3: State Revenue Limitation
CC: This amendment would set a state revenue limit each year based on a formula that considers population growth and inflation instead of using the current method of calculating the revenue limit based on personal income.
CL: Colorado tried this. Here’s what happened, according to the Collins Center: “With its strict revenue limits, Colorado’s government was strapped to fund education and provide other public services when its economy softened. The state ultimately loosened the rules.” Check the amendment itself: There is already a limit to how much the state can spend. And Florida is already strapped when it comes to funding education. You want to short-change the state’s public schools even more? No? Then Vote NO.
Amendment 4: Property tax limitations; property value decline; reduction for non-homesteaded assessment increases; delay of scheduled repeal
CC: Amendment would reduce the maximum annual increase in taxable value of non-homestead properties from 10 percent to 5 percent; provide an extra homestead exemption for first-time home buyers; allow lawmakers to prohibit assessment increases for properties with decreasing market values.
CL: Vote yes if you’d like to make it even more difficult for city and county governments to pay for teachers, police officers, firefighters, road repair and other services in order to enshrine a measly property tax rate. However, if you’re one of those pantywaists who like your crime stopped, your fires fought and your children taught, then vote NO.
Amendment 5: State Courts
CC: This measure would provide for Senate confirmation of Supreme Court justices; give lawmakers control over changes to the rules governing the court system; and direct the Judicial Qualifications Commission, which investigates judicial misconduct complaints, to make its files available to the Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives.
CL: Vote yes if you think that whole “independent judiciary” thing is so 1776 and that the people making the laws — the mental giants of the Florida Legislature — should also be in charge of picking the people who decide whether those laws are just. Or, to put it more succinctly, vote yes if you want a court full of yes votes for the party in power. Or, better yet, just say NO.
Amendment 6: Prohibition on Public Funding of Abortions; Construction of Abortion Rights
CC: This amendment would make the existing federal ban on public funding for most abortions part of the state constitution. It would narrow the scope of a state privacy law that is sometimes used in Florida to challenge abortion laws.
CL: Vote yes if deep down you wish we could go back to the halcyon days of illegal back-room abortions. If you, however, live in the 21st century, please vote NO.
Amendment 8: Religious Freedom
CC: This amendment would remove the prohibition in Florida’s constitution that prevents religious institutions from receiving taxpayer funding. Note: This proposal was known as Amendment 7 until a legal challenge by opponents led to the rewriting of some of the ballot language and its reinstatement on the ballot as Amendment 8. This is the reason there is no Amendment 7 on the 2012 ballot.
CL: Vote yes if you just hate that whole separation-of-church-and-state thing. Because it’ll be really cool if this passes and taxpayer funding goes to, oh, a mosque. What? No money to mosques? But you said… Maybe you should vote NO then?
Amendment 9: Homestead Property Tax Exemption for Surviving Spouse of Military Veteran or First Responder
CC: This would grant a full property tax exemption to the surviving spouses of military veterans who die while on active duty and to the surviving spouses of first responders who die in the line of duty.
CL: Vote yes if you — well, of course you feel bad for spouses of veterans and first responders. It’s just that state law already provides a homestead property tax exemption for spouses of military veterans who die in the line of duty. This amendment enshrines that exemption in the FL constitution, and adds new exemptions for spouses of first responders. Vote NO if you think enough with the exemptions — but really, we wouldn’t blame you for voting yes.
Amendment 10: Tangible Personal Property Tax Exemption
CC: This amendment would double the tangible personal property tax exemption and allow local governments to increase the exemption.
CL: “Tangible personal property” refers to items used in a business or to earn income. According to the Collins Center, examples include “Furniture, fixtures, machinery, tools, shelving, signs and equipment.” The current exemption is $25,000; this amendment would double that to $50,000. Nice for businesses, yes, but here’s what it means for public coffers, says Collins: “Statewide, the additional exemption… would reduce property tax collections across the state by a combined $61 million over its first three years, according to the state Revenue Estimating Conference.” So here’s a question for businesspeople: Do you want to do business in a state that keeps reducing what it’s spending on services just so you can deduct your desk? If your answer is no, Vote NO.
Amendment 11: Additional Homestead Exemption; Low-Income Seniors Who Maintain Long-Term Residency on Property; Equal to Assessed Value
CC: This amendment would give an additional property tax exemption to low-income seniors who have lived in their home for more than 25 years.
CL: This one, like Amendment 9, is tough to argue with — how can you say no to poor Grandma and Grandpa living on a fixed income? However, consider the consequences if you’re not a low-income senior who’s lived in his home for 25-plus years: The state loses an estimated $18.5 million in tax revenues, and your own taxes could go up. Florida TaxWatch calls this amendment “another wrinkle in Florida’s convoluted property tax system.” If you’d like to see fewer convolutions, vote NO.
Amendment 12: Appointment of Student Body President to Board of Governors of the State University System
CC: This amendment would change the way the state selects the student representative on the state university system’s Board of Governors, which oversees the university system.
CL: Seminoles, this one’s for you. Currently, the student representative on the BOG is the president of the Florida Student Association, an organization of student body presidents from every state university except one — FSU. So this amendment would create a whole new bureaucratic entity just so FSU’s student body president could be part of the mix. Yep. And state legislators want you to vote this triviality into the Florida constitution. If you think this amendment is a big waste of everyone's time, vote the hell NO.
There you go. Feel free to use the above as a cheat sheet. Or channel your inner Nancy Reagan and remember to Just Say No.
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