Two decades ago, capping future revenue in fast-growing states was all the rage, as voters concluded that governments flush with cash had grown fat and arrogant. But this is not the 1990s, and Florida's government is not living large after five years of cutting services, shedding thousands of jobs and slashing education funding. A strict revenue cap proposed in a constitutional amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot won't solve any of the state's challenges and could create many more. Voters should reject Amendment 3 as overkill for a problem that does not exist.
Amendment 3, placed on the ballot by the Legislature, is titled "State Government Revenue Limitation.'' It would change the state Constitution to limit future state revenues to current levels, adjusted only for population growth and inflation — locking in the state's current fiscal crisis even after the economy rebounds. The cap could only be breached through supermajority votes in both chambers of the Legislature, or by voters approving a future ballot measure. Otherwise, the state would only see significantly new revenue if there was high inflation or a population boom.
The proposed revenue cap is far more limiting than the one already in the state Constitution, a 1994 amendment that voters approved during the national wave of revenue caps. It limits revenue growth to statewide personal income growth. Only once, in 2005-06 — during the housing boom and the recovery from eight hurricanes over two years — did the state come close to breaching it. Within a year, the recession took care of such a threat. As a result of declining revenues, the state still spends less on each public school student than it did in 2007. At some state universities, tuition has risen more than 50 percent in five years as the state invests less, and for two years the state has set aside no new money for maintenance or construction of public school, university or state college buildings. Those are not indications of government gone wild.
Voting for Amendment 3 would mean limiting the state's ambitions long-term even when the economy rebounds. It would bind the hands of future legislatures that might need to respond to a natural disaster, an offshore oil spill or some other calamity. Lawmakers would need to garner at least 60 percent of the votes in each chamber to breach the cap for a single year; and it would take a two-thirds vote to reset the cap for future years. Supporters contend that would be all but assured in a time of crisis. But that is a naive view of politics that would handcuff government at the moment that Floridians would need it most.
This amendment was put on the ballot because Senate President Mike Haridopolos of Merritt Island and other Republican leaders were more interested in tapping into tea party angst in a presidential election year than being responsible elected leaders. Haridopolos pushed the measure amid his bid for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate. He later dropped out of the race, unable to withstand the scrutiny of a statewide race. Florida voters should heed the lesson from Colorado, where voters approved a similar cap in 1992 and suspended it three years later after it triggered cuts to services and increased the state's costs to borrow money.
Just say no to the Legislature's attempts to amend the Florida Constitution. On Amendment 3, the Tampa Bay Times recommends no.