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Warning! A biased take on the ballot

The most common request I'm getting these days is to talk about the amendments to our state Constitution that will be on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Okeydoke, let's go through 'em. Then I'll throw in a biased comment or two, as long as you promise to say, "Who is this fool? I'll decide for myself."

There are six proposals. Don't be thrown by the fact that their numbers aren't in order. There used to be nine, but three were thrown out by the courts.

Amendment 1, proposed by our Legislature, gets rid of some outdated wording in our Constitution that makes it possible to outlaw land ownership by "ineligible aliens."

This seems innocent. It is meant to get rid of some old, xenophobic language. Most states, if they ever had such rules, got rid of them long ago.

You've probably already heard of Amendment 2, placed on the ballot by citizen petition. It puts a ban on same-sex marriage — already illegal in Florida — into our Constitution.

I bet most of us have a strong opinion, one way or the other, about whether same-sex marriage should be legal. The question here is slightly different, though.

First, is it necessary to put this ban in our Constitution if it's already illegal? The backers say yes, because who knows how a court might rule one day?

But Amendment 2 goes on to ban anything that is even the "substantial equivalent" of marriage. The danger is that a court might throw out domestic partner benefits or other kinds of perfectly reasonable things. To repeat the backers' own argument — who knows how a court might rule?

The remaining amendments were put on the ballot by the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, an outfit that meets every 20 years.

Amendment 3 protects homeowners from a tax increase just because they improve their homes against hurricanes, or install renewable energy sources. Anybody got an opposing argument? Not me.

Amendment 4 would give a tax break to landowners who agree to put a permanent "conservation" label on their property. The idea is to reward, not punish, owners for keeping their land vacant.

Lots of good-guy groups are for this, and there's little opposition. The only caveat is, let's make sure lobbyists and the Legislature don't create loopholes that let big corporate landowners take advantage of it somehow.

Amendment 6 would give a tax break to "working waterfront" businesses such as marinas. Again, the idea is not to punish them for their existing use.

The working-waterfront folks have been angling for a while to get their own tax break. It's true that they are punished by Florida's policy of taxing land at its "highest and best use." But then, so is everybody.

Why no break for mom-and-pop motels, for example? Is carving out tax breaks, one lobbying group at a time, the right way to set our policy?

Amendment 8 would allow counties to ask voters for a local sales tax, renewed five years at a time, to support community colleges.

I suppose questioning this is like being against apple pie. But I'll make you a deal — let me elect community college presidents and boards of trustees, so I can kick 'em out if I don't like how they're spending my money, and I'll give 'em their own tax.

Totally biased! But hey, at least you were warned.

Warning! A biased take on the ballot 10/13/08 [Last modified: Monday, October 20, 2008 5:29pm]
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