Sides debate Amendment 5 in Pinellas
Both sides of Amendment 5 used education funding to boost their case today, with one side pointing to the Florida Lottery and the other to the meltdown in the housing market.
“The numbers don’t add up,” state Sen. Mike Haridopolos, R-Indialantic, said in a debate at the Seminole branch of St. Petersburg College. “The last thing we need is another Lottery. We’re told one thing and another thing happens.”
Nancy Riley, past president of the Florida Association of Realtors, pointed to the reeling housing market. It’ll be rejuvenated if Amendment 5 passes, she said, and in turn raise more tax money for schools.
“We need to make sure we get the money to schools by invigorating our economy,” said Riley, one of 21 members of the Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, which put the measure on the November ballot.
Amendment 5 would cut required local property taxes for schools, or roughly 25 percent of each property owner’s bill. But it would also require the Legislature to make up $9 billion to $11 billion a year by doing one or more of the following: Raising sales taxes, closing sales tax exemptions, reducing state spending or finding unspecified “other revenues.”
A likely future Senate president, Haridopolos is in the midst of a five-week, 10-forum tour representing Protect Florida’s Future, a coalition of groups opposed to Amendment 5. Members include the Associated Industries of Florida, the AARP and the state teachers union. The group on the other side is Give Me Five for Florida’s Future.
When the TBRC held hearings around the state, one plea resonated above all others, she said. “Time after time after time the only issue that came up was, ‘Reduce my property taxes,’” she said.
The audience of 60 listened politely until the question-and-answer period. But then it erupted in murmurs when Riley said Amendment 5 will make schools better target their resources. “Schools have so much money,” she said.
Haridopolos steadily hammered at his argument – that Amendment 5 will create a financial hole so big that only new taxes could fill it. “I didn’t run for office to raise taxes,” he said. “And I didn’t run for office to ruin our education system.”
To date, Haridopolos has been the most visible campaigner on either side. But some wonder if that’s about to change. Gov. Charlie Crist said for the first time this week that he’ll work to support Amendment 5, though how hard remains unclear. Earlier this year, he aggressively campaigned for Amendment 1, which led to a modest reduction in property taxes.
“Obviously he’s the most well known person in Florida,” Haridopolos told The Gradebook after the debate. “His support makes our battle that much tougher.”
Then again, Crist’s effort for Amendment 1 came before Florida’s economy stumbled into a recession and the Legislature cut school spending for the first time in decades. Amendment 5 has also generated a broader base of opposition.
“This is a whole different bag of beans,” said Pinellas school board member Jane Gallucci, who opposes the amendment. “You’ve got a coalition that’s bipartisan, tripartisan, from every facet. Which is unusual for an education issue.”
- Ron Matus, state education reporter