The Buzz

From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Judge tosses Amendment 5 from ballot

14

August

UPDATE: Gov. Charlie Crist, in a press avail in Tallahassee, just told reporters: "I was disappointed, but not dismayed. It will be appealed." He said what matters is the last court decision, "not the first." He added, "I hope it stays on the ballot. Most important to me is that the people have the opportunity to make the call. It's their Constitution."

Regarding the argument that the ballot title and summary are misleading, Crist said: “A headline is supposed to give you an idea about what’s in the body of the story. It was a headline. It didn’t seem inaccurate to me."
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A Tallahassee circuit court judge has deemed the wording of Amendment 5 misleading, stripping it from the November ballot.

"The court finds that the ballot title and summary provided in the proposition for Amendment 5 fail to fairly inform the voter, in clear and unambiguous language of the chief purposes of the amendment and the language of the title and summary, as written, is misleading in the forgoing respects," Judge John C. Cooper wrote. (Download the ruling as a PDF here.)

Cooper foreshadowed his decision with tough questions yesterday for lawyers for John McKay's Vote Yes on 5 committee and the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, which placed the amendment on the ballot.

Cooper mainly faulted a provision that states that the lost funding for schools would be replaced with an "equivalent hold harmless amount." But funding was only guaranteed for one year, after which the Legislature would have to come up with new revenue sources.

The state is certain to appeal, and the case will likely go directly to the Florida Supreme Court.

Reaction from the Coalition to Protect Florida's Economy, which filed the challenge:

“I was very pleased with the way the arguments went yesterday and felt Judge Cooper had a firm understanding of the issues. Unfortunately for them, opposing counsel’s arguments fell short,” said the Coalition’s attorney Barry Richard.

“Florida voters want property tax relief – not a tax increase. Voting for Amendment 5 would be like buying a new shirt on sale for $20 and then being told you owe $50 more for the bag to take it home in” said the coalition spokeswoman Jennifer Green.

Rick McAllister of the Florida Retail Federation “Voters need clear information, and this amendment fell short. It was called a tax swap, but it was never clear what we were swapping for. Amendment 5 would have exposed Florida ’s schools to budget cuts by removing a stable property tax without a full explanation of how it would be replaced. It would have been left up to future Legislatures to deal with the unknown consequences and tax increases.”

Reaction from the Florida Association of Realtors, which supported the amendment:

“Homeownership is a fundamental right, and Floridians deserve a say on how their property is taxed," said FAR President Chuck Bonfiglio. “We are shocked that the court decided to deny property owners’ the ability to dramatically lower their property tax rates.”

If passed, Amendment 5 will cut property taxes by 25 percent, and in some counties up to 40 percent.  The Legislature is required to make up those dollars by a variety of ways, including but not limited to a one cent increase in the state sales tax, reviewing existing sales tax exemptions, and overall budget cuts.  Schools will still be funded, and held harmless under Amendment 5.   

The association will continue to monitor the appeals process as the amendment is expected to go to the District Court of Appeals and the Florida Supreme Court. 

Reaction from Sen. Mike Haridopolos, Amendment 5 opponent

Tallahassee, FL – Senator Mike Haridopolos, leading opponent of Amendment 5 and advocate for Florida’s future fiscal sustainability, released the following statement today in response to Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper’s ruling to remove the tax-swap proposal from the November ballot.

“The ruling is a reflection of what so many voters have been telling us as we have been traveling the state to discuss the ramifications of Amendment 5.  The amendment's title and its proponents’ explanations do not match its true nature and impact on the state’s taxpayers and budget.

“This amendment is a bad deal for Florida and a bait and switch proposal of the worst kind.  Amendment 5 is clearly not a tax cut and our state’s education system, among others, would likely be harmed if this is embedded into our state’s Constitution. 

“Even though we consider today’s ruling a victory for the voters and taxpayers of Florida, we will continue to fight against the amendment until all appeals are exhausted and we are certain that Florida’s hardworking families are free from this crippling tax increase.”

Protect Florida’s Future is a coalition of Florida’s seniors, educators, health care providers, farmers, and small and large businesses dedicated to defeating Amendment 5. For more information on Protect Florida’s Future and Amendment 5, please visit www.protectfloridasfuture.com.

[Last modified: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 11:07am]

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