Election 2012 | Florida Constitution
Editor's note:Requested by readers, the Daily News is pleased to repeat this editorial originally published on Oct. 7.
They make up most of the ballot for Nov. 6, for which early voting starts Oct. 27.
There will be frustration and gridlock caused by the 11 proposed Florida constitutional amendments if voters' first reading comes via the ballot's fine print. Even if voters plan to use the early voting option, which we heartily recommend, some homework is in order.
Voters can thank their elected members of the Florida Legislature. They put all 11 on the ballot — free of the clarity and brevity rules that public petitioners must follow — and with a decided partisan edge.
Our initial inclination is to recommend "no" votes to all of them, to send a message yet again to Tallahassee that amending the Constitution is not the way to handle this business.
Yet, the ballot is what it is. We have to work with the hand we are dealt.
Our recommendations, with ballot titles:
Amendment 1: Health Care Services
It doesn't take long for readers of this proposal to see that it is all about preventing government from requiring that health-care coverage be purchased, a major feature of the federal Affordable Care Act, aka Obamacare.
Most voters are aware that such a requirement has been upheld as constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court — in advance of this Republican effort to rally support against it or be ready for a congressional repeal.
That makes this amendment a moot point.
Voters who value the integrity of our state's guiding document can take a stand against gamesmanship by voting "no."
Amendment 2:Homestead Property Tax Discount for Veterans Disabled by Combat Injury
This is about fairness — and saying "thanks."
It applies the bonus homestead exemption available to Florida veterans to those combat-wounded who enlisted while living elsewhere.
Every state with exemptions on the books should follow Florida's lead for reciprocity.
Amendment 3: State Government Revenue Limitation
Limiting the money that state government can spend.
We all have to live with such limits, right?
We ought to make Tallahassee join the club, right?
Actually, state government already has revenue limits and is required to have a balanced budget.
We cannot see an existing problem that rises to the level of a constitutional amendment. We prefer flexibility that allows for worst-case scenarios, such as hurricane repairs, and holding elected officials accountable.
Amendment 4: Property Tax Limitations
This is the one that the "tax your assets off" ad campaign is all about.
That over-the-top push notwithstanding, we believe this seemingly complicated, multipart proposal actually boils down to what Realtor advocates say it is — comprehensive tax reform to help get the economy back on track.
The plan would halve the 10 percent cap on yearly taxable value hikes for commercial properties, thus helping businesses today and tomorrow plan ahead with more confidence.
The part calling for a graduated five-year tax discount for first-time Florida homebuyers can help prime the pump for real estate, construction and all their partner industries such as home furnishings and appliances. We believe proponents' response to cities and counties that fear tax revenue reductions: A turnaround helped by this amendment will produce a broader, larger tax base in the long run. This amendment is part of the solution.
There is one more part, calling for cancellation of the so-called "recapture" clause added to the original Save Our Homes amendment in 1992. That clause says that in years when taxable values fail to rise by the U.S. cost of living or 3 percent, whichever is lower, local property taxes can actually go up by that amount by virtue of "recapturing."
That is why so many homeowners have experienced the phenomenon of rising taxes amid lowering taxable values for the past several years.
That diabolical gotcha was never in the original deal approved by voters; it was added later by bureaucrats.
It is time to get rid of it, and here is our chance.
Like we said, Amendment 4 packs a wallop. Good. Vote "yes."
Amendment 5: State Courts
This would allow Florida Senate confirmation of the governor's Supreme Court appointees.
In the context of a 2011 push to actually split the Supreme Court into two halves — one for civil and the other for criminal matters — this is more about power and partisanship than good justice.
Anyway, state judicial appointments are not for life, unlike on the federal level where Senate confirmation is required.
Amendment 6: Prohibition on Public Funding of Abortions
Vote "no," because the title is misleading. Public funding of abortions already is prohibited. What this really is about is "parental consent," the right of a parent to be informed about a child's pending abortion, if the child is younger than 18. Currently, state law requires a minor to notify at least one parent before getting an abortion, unless a judge waives that requirement. The second part of this amendment would not allow a judge to do so except for limited, specific reasons such as rape or incest.
Florida courts have ruled that a judge can waive parental notification at his or her own discretion. This entire amendment is designed to prevent that. That's an issue that may be worthy of a future amendment; it should not be disguised as something else.
Again, our Constitution is too important for murky agendas.nThere is no Amendment 7
Amendment 8: Religious Freedom
Vote "no" yet again because the title is misleading. This proposal is really about school vouchers for church-sponsored private schools.
Let's call it what it is and bring it back for a focused discussion and vote at a later time. The Florida amendment process has a way of failing to deliver on what voters think is up for review, and this would be yet another example of that.
Proponents say they are being pro-active, citing separation-of-church-and-state legal challenges across the country. They also produce long lists of positive, credible, faith-based missions that already use public funds, to great public benefit.
Still, with that argument, this amendment seeks to solve a problem that does not yet exist.
Amendment 9: Homestead Property Tax Exemption for Surviving Spouse of Military Veteran or First Responder Killed in Line of Duty
Vote "yes." This is an amendment that means what it says and vice versa. A property tax exemption would apply to surviving spouses of members of the military and first responders until those spouses move or remarry.
It passed both houses of the Legislature unanimously, for good reason — a break for families devastated by the loss of a public servant.
Amendment 10: Tangible Personal Property Tax Exemption
This is a tax break targeted where needed most — for small businesses. It would skip taxation on equipment worth up to $50,000 — twice today's exempted value — and, we believe, help existing businesses and encourage new business.
It's a wonder that taxation issues, even at this grass-roots level, need the full force of a constitutional amendment, but they do.
Amendment 11: Homestead Property Tax Exemption for Low-Income Seniors Who Maintain Long-Term Residency
Vote "yes," although it seems tailored for areas other than Southwest Florida. The plan allows counties and cities to help 25-year, low-income senior residents afford to stay in homes less than $250,000.
Low estimated impact statewide, but big impact on those at the bottom of the economic scale.
Amendment 12: Appointment of Student Body President to Board of Governors of State University System
By now, at the end of the ballot, voters might be aiming to vent.
Go ahead. Vote "no" with gusto.
This is on the ballot at the behest of Florida State University, which chooses not to participate in what's known as Florida Student Association (student body presidents of 11 other universities in Florida). This would set up another group of student leaders (one from each university) that would give FSU a shot at power.
This is so insider/trivial that it should not be on the ballot.