The best way to send a message to Tallahassee that Floridians want fairer taxes and less extreme government is to say "no" to the 11 state constitutional amendments on the Nov. 6 ballot. Florida doesn't need a single one of the measures authored by the Legislature and presented with attractive but deceptive titles and dense summaries.
The amendments fall into two broad categories. One is a pernicious effort to sneak a conservative social agenda into the state Constitution by soft-selling the changes. The other is a raft of tax cuts that benefit arbitrary groups of people and interests. To the casual observer, these tax measures may sport the veneer of beneficent public policy, but they would only make Florida's property tax system more unfair. None is a good deal for the state or the average Floridian.
The kind of duplicity that afflicts many of the amendments is most apparent in Amendment 8. Titled by lawmakers "Religious Freedom," Amendment 8 actually constricts religious freedom by lifting limits on state funding for religious institutions and schools. It would result in Floridians being forced, through their taxes, to support faiths they reject — the very definition of religious compulsion.
Amendment 6, a direct assault on a woman's legal right to choose an abortion, is dressed up to look like palatable limits on public funding of abortion. And Amendment 5, titled "State Courts," is a power grab by the Legislature to wrest greater control over the state judiciary. The amendment's excessively wordy summary will confuse as much as enlighten, particularly when the real fallout of passage would be more politicized courts.
Six of the 11 amendments would shrink public coffers and handicap the ability of the state and local governments to invest in education, public safety, parks and essential services. Amendment 3 would implement a tax-cap scheme that Colorado has already suspended due to its devastating effect. Amendments 2, 9, 10 and 11 represent a cherry-picking approach to property tax breaks, where sentimentally favored groups such as disabled veterans, low-income senior citizens and surviving spouses of those killed in the line of duty, plus businesses, get special deals. And Amendment 4 would further complicate an already grossly unfair property tax system that can find like-situated owners of identical homes or businesses paying far different taxes.
Voters may be tempted to just skip the amendments altogether, but that may be what lawmakers had in mind. Passage requires only 60 percent of the votes cast for each measure, not 60 percent of all voters. Taking the time to vote "no" is essential to defeating them. (Voters in Pinellas County should take care and not confuse the amendments with a school funding measure, which is deserving of voter support.)
By just saying "no" to all 11 amendments, Florida voters will demonstrate they are more moderate and sensible than their legislative leaders. That should come as a surprise to no one outside of the state Capitol.