Supporters of Amendment 4, the so-called Hometown Democracy initiative, minimize the amendment's likely effects. They say it simply would give residents the right to vote on major development projects proposed in their communities. But the amendment's impact could be far-reaching and costly to every Floridian — a fact confirmed in a study released by the nonpartisan Florida TaxWatch. Voters should make their decision on Amendment 4 based on facts, not fallacies promoted by the amendment's supporters.
Fallacy: There will be few referendums.
Amendment 4 would require a referendum every time a city or county wanted to change its "comprehensive land use plan." Supporters claim the referendums would be limited to land use changes and could be handled during regular elections. But no one really knows how many referendums or special elections would be required.
That's partly because cities and counties don't have plans titled "comprehensive land use plan." Every city and county has a state-required "comprehensive plan," a lengthy document to guide growth. One of its sections is a "future land use plan." But because of the confusion, local government attorneys say they would ask voters to okay every change to the thick comprehensive plans. Florida local governments make 8,000 to 9,000 changes to their plans each year. That would be a lot of trips to the polls.
In some situations, a single change city voters made to a city plan also might require a countywide referendum, because the state says city plans and county plans must be "consistent." Should a small change in St. Petersburg require approval from voters in Tarpon Springs?
For every referendum, there would be a cost to taxpayers. Florida TaxWatch estimates the cost of Amendment 4 referendums could be $44.6 million to $83.4 million per year.
Fallacy: It's perfectly clear.
Hometown Democracy, the grass-roots group that got Amendment 4 on the ballot, contends that the amendment is clear and unambiguous. It isn't, and if it passes, lawsuits and legal bills for taxpayers will follow.
Courts would have to clear up what the phrase "comprehensive land use plan" means. After that could come lawsuits filed by property owners for infringement of private property rights. And community referendum results could be challenged in court by the losing parties.
St. Pete Beach and Yankeetown adopted their own Amendment 4-type regulations and have been slammed by lawsuits and legal bills.
Fallacy: Only big developers would be affected. Supporters imply that Amendment 4 targets only major developers of big projects. Florida Hometown Democracy's television ads call them "corporate vampires who suck Florida's land dry." What they don't say is that small property owners also would be snared in Amendment 4's net, forced to submit to a citywide or countywide referendum to get a simple land use change. It could be a church trying to expand or a homeowner trying to convert his house into an office.
Voters are understandably frustrated with the failure of state and local governments to control growth, and growth management laws need an overhaul. But Amendment 4 is not the solution — and it could make the situation worse.