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Amendments make for crowded ballot

By Staff | Nov 2, 2012

From changes to the Florida Constitution on abortion, homesteading and funding for religious institutions, to a local referendum on slot machines, Lee County voters have a lot to decide in the general election on Nov. 6.

There are 11 amendments on the ballot, along with a Lee Country ordinance that would authorize slot machines at the Naples Fort Myers Greyhound Track. Of the amendments, four address homesteaded or non-homesteaded property.

Amendment 4, in particular, deals with extending an additional exemption to some homeowners, prohibiting increases in assessed value if property values decrease and cutting in half the taxable rate on non-homesteaded property.

“This helps stimulate our area, our government,” Michelle Deal, president of the Cape Coral Association of Realtors, said of the proposed amendment.

According to Deal, TaxWatch reported that the proposal will create 20,000 jobs, generate 383,000 new home sales, add $1.1 billion to Florida’s economy and expand the personal income of Floridians by $5.3 billion in over 10 years.

There are four components to the amendment.

First, it extends an additional exemption to first-time homebuyers or to buyers who have not owned property in the last three years or more. The exemption would phase out in five years and equal half the home’s value.

The exemption would not be greater than the median market value of all homesteaded properties in the county where the property is located.

“You just get a little bit of an additional exemption for the first five years,” she said.

Second, the amendment would prevent the assessed value of homesteaded property and certain non-homesteaded property from increasing when the market value of a property decreases compared to the previous year.

“It’s going to protect Florida homeowners from increased property taxes when their property values decline, which is exactly what has happened over the last few years,” Deal said.

Third, the amendment lowers the cap from 10 percent to 5 percent on annual increases in the assessments of certain non-homesteaded property, like vacation or second homes, rental homes and commercial properties.

“It lowers the maximum yearly assessment,” she said. “That’s going to encourage more commercial to our area, more businesses.”

League of Women Voters of Florida President Deirdre Macnab disagreed.

“Opponents (to the amendment), and the league is one of them, don’t believe that tax exemptions for special groups belong in the Constitution,” she said.

Macnab added that it gives a bigger tax break to out-of-state homeowners and reduces local government revenue, which helps fund local services.

“When granted, it means the rest of us pay more or services are eliminated or reduced,” she said.

The amendment also delays the scheduled repeal of assessment caps on certain types of non-homesteaded properties until 2013.

At the county level, the slot machine referendum was put on the ballot following a vote earlier this year by the Lee County Board of County Commissioners. Commissioner Frank Mann was the sole dissenting vote.

“I’m opposed to the slots because they’re the first step toward full casino gambling in Lee County, which I strongly oppose,” he said Friday.

The ordinance would only be applicable at the Bonita Springs facility.

“I simply will not bet my county’s future on gambling, alcohol and prostitution. All of which will surround that lifestyle,” he said.

“It’s not the quality of life I want for my county and for my grandchildren,” Mann added.

Isadore Havenick’s family owns the Naples Fort Myers Greyhound Track.

“For us, it’s about creating an entertainment designation in Lee County,” he said.

The referendum and following expansion of the facility is estimated to create 900 construction jobs, then 500 full-time jobs in the entertainment portion.

“And a dedicated revenue source for both Lee County and the city of Bonita Springs,” Havenick said.

The county and city will receive 1.5 percent of the gross revenue.

He noted that untaxed and unregulated gambling already exists.

“You can’t be half pregnant,” Havenick said. “It (the referendum) allows a licensed, taxed and regulated business to participate in these activities.”

The 2012 Florida Election and Voter Guide, which is prepared by the League of Women Voters of Florida, outlines the remaining 10 amendments as:

Amendment 1 – Health Care Services

Since the Supreme Court upheld the federal government’s right to impose the individual mandate, Amendment 1 may have no implications other than to send a message that a majority of Florida’s voters are either for or against the individual mandate, the guide states.

* League analysis states a yes vote would represent an attempt to opt Florida out of federal health care reform requirements; add language to the Florida Constitution that could be found unconstitutional if determined by the courts to be in conflict with federal law. It also could prevent the Florida Legislature from passing health care coverage mandates independent of federal law.

* A no vote would mean Florida should comply with federal health care reform requirements and ensure that the Florida Constitution does not conflict with the U.S. Constitution with regard to health care coverage. It would not prohibit Florida lawmakers from passing state laws requiring health care coverage.

* Amendment 2 – Veterans Disabled Due to Combat Injury; Homestead Property Tax Discount

Amendment 2 relaxes the eligibility requirements for an existing property tax discount. Currently, disabled veterans are eligible for a discount equal to the degree of their disability – 50 percent disability gets 50 percent off – if: they are a Florida resident; they are 65 or older; they were disabled in combat; and they were a Florida resident when they entered the military. Amendment 2 would eliminate the pre-enlistment residency requirement.

* According to the League, a yes vote would reduce property tax revenue for schools and local government services by an estimated total of $15 million over the first three years; and expand the property tax exemption to some disabled veterans who are not currently eligible for a similar exemption.

* A no vote would not reduce property tax revenue for schools and local government; and not place a limitation on state revenue in the Florida Constitution.

Amendment 3 – State Government Revenue Limitation

Florida has a cap for the amount of revenue it can spend every year from imposed taxes and fees. Excess revenue above the cap is deposited into in the state’s rainy day fund or returned to taxpayers. The cap is set using a formula based on changes in personal income – a total of earnings, such as wages, dividends, rent or interest income, received in a year by Floridians.

To date, state revenue collections have never exceeded the cap, the guide states.

Amendment 3 would impose a new formula for calculating the revenue limit, basing it instead on annual population growth and inflation – indicators considered less volatile than personal growth income, but more likely to constrain growth in state revenues and affect government spending.

* A yes note would restrict government revenue, like taxes, licenses, fees, fines or charges for services, and limit the Legislature’s ability to increase revenue beyond what the formula allows, the guide states.

* A no vote would protect the state’s ability to provide the current level of government services; and preserve the Legislature’s flexibility in responding to budgetary concerns and changing economic conditions.

Amendment 5 – State Courts

Amendment 5 alters the balance of power among the judicial, legislative and executive branches of government. One provision grants the state Senate confirmation power over appointees to the Florida Supreme Court. Currently, the governor fills openings by appointing a nominee from a list presented by a board. Amendment 5 would allow the Senate to reject or approve nominees.

It also gives members of the state House of Representatives expanded access to confidential files involving judges accused of misconduct and gives lawmakers the right to repeal procedural court rules, such as speedy trial time limits or deadlines for filing court documents, with a simple majority vote, rather than the currently required two-thirds majority vote.

Amendment 6 – Prohibition on Public Funding of Abortions; Construction of Abortion Rights

Federal law prohibits the expenditure of federal funds for most abortions, except for rape, incest and threats to a mother’s life. Amendment 6 would place the prohibitions in the state Constitution.

One provision in the amendment, however, would affect abortion law in Florida. It would prevent courts from concluding in abortion cases that the right to privacy in Florida is broader in scope than the right to privacy afforded in the U.S. Constitution.

*n A yes vote would mean that Florida’s constitutional right to privacy is not applicable to abortion-related issues; and allow more restrictive abortion laws to be found constitutional by Florida courts, the guide states.

* A no vote would continue to allow Florida’s constitutional right to privacy to include abortion-related issues; and continue to extend Florida’s constitutional right to privacy to any future attempts to restrict abortion.

Amendment 8 – Religious Freedom

Amendment 8 would repeal a 126-year-old provision, known as the “no aid” provision, in the Florida Constitution that prohibits taxpayer funds from being spent “directly or indirectly” in support of any entity that promotes religion. It would have an impact on future school voucher programs, the guide states. Past programs that included religiously affiliated schools have been deemed unconstitutional partly due to the provision.

* A yes vote would allow the expansion of Florida’s school voucher program to religious institutions and could result in money being directed to private religious schools at the expense of public schools; and allow for a greater number of religious programs to be support by taxpayer funding, the guide states.

* A no vote would maintain the “no aid” provision in the Constitution that prohibits the government from funding religious institutions and groups that promote religion; and maintain the provision the courts have cited when rejecting school voucher programs that fund religiously affiliated schools.

Amendment 9 – Homestead Property Tax Exemption for Surviving Spouse of Military Veteran or First Responder

Since 1997, state law has granted full homestead property tax relief to spouses of military veterans who die from service-connected causes while on active duty. Amendment 9 would place the exemption in the Constitution, while extending it to the spouses of first responders who die in the line of duty. First responders are defined as law enforcement officers, correctional officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians and paramedics, and the amendment covers full-time, part-time and volunteer positions.

For a spouse to be eligible, the deceased must have been a permanent resident of Florida as of Jan. 1 of the year of their death. Surviving spouses of those who died years ago can apply for eligibility retroactively, although the tax relief is for future taxes only.

* A yes vote would allow spouses whose partners died before the passage of the amendment to be eligible for the tax exemption.

* A no vote would prevent local governments from losing a combined $600,000 in estimated property tax revenues over the course of a year, the guide states.

Amendment 10 – Tangible Personal Property Tax Exemption

By April 1 of each year, anyone owning tangible personal property that is used in a business or to earn income, such as furniture, machinery, signs or equipment, must file a return with the local property appraiser. Currently, the first $25,000 of tangible property is exempt.

Amendment 10 would raise the exemption to $50,000, and allow counties and cities to grant additional tangible personal tax exemptions beyond $50,000.

* A yes vote would reduce local property tax revenues across the state by an estimated $61 million over the first three years it is implemented.

* A no vote would not reduce local property tax revenues across the state.

Amendment 11 – Additional Homestead Exemption; Low-Income Seniors Who Maintain Long-Term Residency on Property; Equal to Assessed Value

Amendment 11 authorizes cities and counties to grand full homestead property tax relief to seniors who meet the following eligibility requirements: age 65 or older; have a household income of less than $27,030; own a home with a market value of less than $250,000; and have lived in the home for at least 25 years. City councils and county commissioners would need to pass the exemption by a supermajority vote before the full exemption can be offered.

* A yes vote would reduce tax revenues to local governments across the state by an estimated $18.5 million over the first two years it is in place.

* A no vote would prevent local governments from granting an exemption.

Amendment 12 – Appointment of Student Body President to Board of Governors of the State University System

Florida’s 11 public universities are part of the State University System, which is governed by a Board of Governors. The Florida Student Association president holds a place on the board. Not every university is an active FSA member, so student council presidents from those schools can not be the student representative on the Board of Governors.

Amendment 12 would instruct the Board of Governors to create a new council consisting of the student body presidents of all 11 universities. The chair of the new council would serve as the student representative to the board.

* A yes vote would remove the Florida Student Association president from the Board of Governors; and require all state university student body presidents to participate in a newly created council.

* A no vote would retains the Florida Student Association’s current role on the Board of Governors; and require that state universities participate in the Florida Student Association to be represented by the student member.

The League of Women Voters of Florida is a nonpartisan political organization that encourages informed and active participation in government, works to increase understanding of major public policy issues, and influences public policy through education and advocacy, according to the group’s Web site.

A complete copy of the 2012 Florida Election and Voter Guide can be found at: www.TheFloridaVoter.org .