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Supreme Court pulls amendments from Nov. 4 ballot; Ruling affects 5, 7, 9

By Staff | Sep 4, 2008

Three controversial amendments — 5, 7 and 9 — were taken off the Nov. 4 ballot Wednesday after the Florida Supreme Court determined that the ballot language of one amendment was unclear to voters and that the other two were hastily added by a commission that exceeded its own authority.

All three amendments were proposed by the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission — a group which meets once every 20 years. The court presented its ruling Wednesday following oral arguments.

Amendment 5, known as the “tax swap” amendment, sought to eliminate required local effort from the property tax system that benefits local schools, forcing the state to make up for any losses in funding. It also would have cut property taxes by 25 percent and cap assessed value increases by 5 percent annually.

According to the Associated Press, “justices upheld a lower court’s ruling that its title and ballot summary are misleading.”

On Aug. 15, Leon County Circuit Court Judge John Cooper ruled against Amendment 5 because its language was unclear to voters. That decision was appealed and heard by the Supreme Court Wednesday.

Amendments 7 and 9 were also overturned. One would have forced school districts to channel 65 percent of their operating funds directly into the classroom, while the other would have allowed school vouchers to be used for students to attend private or religious-based schools.

“The high court also agreed the Tax and Budget Reform Commission exceeded its powers by offering Amendments 7 and 9,” according to an Associated Press report Wednesday.

Officials from the Lee County School District said they are unclear on how a commission working on tax reform is qualified to demand what percent of operating dollars should be used in the classroom.

They are also opposed to allowing school vouchers for private or religious-based schools, specifically because these schools do not adhere to the same academic standards as those in the public system.

Amendment 7, the “65 percent solution,” also required the Florida Legislature to create a definition of what encompasses a “classroom,” leading some district officials to fear that such a definition could leave out valuable school employees such as guidance counselors or custodians.

Two weeks ago, the 95,000-member National Association of School Boards joined the effort to ban the amendments.

Lee County Property Appraiser Ken Wilkinson, who sits on the tax commission, favored Amendment 5 because he said it would force accountability onto the millage process, although opponents claimed that it did not provide a solution to cover lost funding.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce did not support Amendment 5. Deborah Liftig, regional advocate for the chamber, described the amendment as “vague” in how it dealt with compensating local school districts for lost funding.