The Florida Supreme Court made the right calls by removing from the November ballot three constitutional amendments, two involving school vouchers and one on property taxes and education funding. The Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, which placed those amendments on the ballot, failed Floridians by exceeding its authority and poorly drafting its proposals.
Amendments 5, 7 and 9 were among those placed before voters by the commission that is constituted every 20 years to review the state's tax, budgeting and revenue structure. With election deadlines looming, the court swiftly removed the amendments from the ballot in unanimous decisions on the same day it heard oral arguments. While the full opinions are not out yet, the oral arguments made it clear why the justices disapproved. Amendment 5, the so-called "tax swap amendment,'' was defective because the ballot title and summary were deceptive. Amendments 7 and 9, which were related to school vouchers, were removed because the commission wasn't authorized to deal with those issues.
Amendment 5 would have eliminated most school property taxes while requiring the Legislature to replace the money from other sources. But the ballot title and summary failed to disclose to voters that the "hold harmless" requirement was for only one year. As Justice Charles Wells aptly noted, the amendment appears to be a "lifetime warranty" when "it's a limited warranty because it's only going to go for one year."
On Amendments 7 and 9, the justices' primary objection centered on the commission's overstepping of its authority. During oral arguments, the justices pointed out that taxation and the state budgetary process are the only two topics where the commission is authorized to offer constitutional amendments. The school voucher amendments clearly did not fit into those areas.
A commission charged with doing serious work on the state's fiscal health just once every 20 years spent too much time playing special interest politics and not enough paying attention to the wording of the tax reform amendments it was authorized to consider. It was a squandered opportunity, and the state Supreme Court acted properly to uphold the constitutional boundaries of the commission and protect Florida voters from misleading amendments. That the justices acted unanimously speaks well of the ability of this court to put the Florida Constitution first.