TALLAHASSEE — Florida's fiscally conservative Senate wants to leave its mark in the Constitution by more tightly capping the amount of taxes the state could collect in any given year.
On March 15, the Senate passed what it calls a "smart cap," which would limit increases in state spending to a formula based on annual growth of population and cost of living. The proposal still needs approval of the House before it could be placed on the fall 2012 ballot. If it makes it to the ballot, 60 percent of voters would have to approve the amendment before it became law.
Proponents say the measure makes it more difficult to raise taxes. But opponents argue that the state already has a revenue cap that is calculated by state personal income.
In voicing support for a more restrictive cap, Senate Majority Leader Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said the proposal will prevent the overuse of taxpayer dollars and give Floridians a direct voice in charting the state's fiscal course.
"It also gives Floridians a voice, requiring a 60 percent vote by citizens in order to impose a new tax, fee, license, fine, charge or assessment on Floridians," Gardiner said in a press release distributed moments after the bill, SJR 958, passed the Senate 27-13.
Would the cap as proposed by the Senate require voter approval for new taxes or fees?
Background on cap
If enacted, the revenue cap would become effective starting with the 2014-15 budget year. In that year, the state would be allowed to collect an amount equal to the state revenue collected during the 2013-14 budget year plus an adjustment for inflation and population growth. The 2015-16 budget would be created based on revenue from 2014-15 — with another adjustment for inflation and population growth. And so on.
There are several ways to break the cap, according to lawmakers.
The Legislature, by a two-thirds vote of each chamber, may increase the revenue limitation for any fiscal year, and use that new figure to determine revenue guidelines by future years.
The Legislature, by a three-fifths vote, may increase the allowable state revenue for any fiscal year. But that additional revenue would not be counted in future years.
Voters also could be asked to raise the revenue cap, according to analysis of the bill. To do that, two-thirds of the Legislature would have to agree to put the question before voters. Sixty percent of voters would have to agree to raise the revenue cap for the change to be adopted.
Voters' say not in plan
So the Legislature could raise the revenue cap by itself, or it could ask voters to raise the revenue cap.
But Gardiner was much more specific — saying that voters would be required to not just raise the revenue cap, but to approve a new tax or fee.
It turns out, nothing like that is in the proposal.
Gardiner spokeswoman Allison Fogt said he was "discussing a tax, fee, license, fine, charge or assessment on Floridians that would 'bust the cap.' "
But even still, any new tax or fee that would break the revenue cap could be passed without voter approval.
At a press conference on March 16, Senate president Mike Haridopolos talked about how the revenue cap doesn't necessarily tie the hands of future Legislatures because they can always override it. "With a super-majority vote, the Legislature can spend more money," he said.
In prepared remarks praising the passage of a Senate bill that would tighten a cap on the amount of revenue the state could collect, Gardiner tried to suggest the legislation also requires 60 percent of voters to approve any new tax or fee.
It doesn't. Voters could be asked to raise the revenue cap, or lawmakers could do it on their own. And the proposal talks about revenue collections in general, not specific taxes or fees. We rate Gardiner's statement False.
Aaron Sharockman can be reached at email@example.com.