With one vote today, the Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission can undermine its previous good work and strangle the state's future. The commission is scheduled to decide the fate of a proposed constitutional amendment that masquerades as a taxpayer's bill of rights but is backed by antitax extremists whose goal is to starve government. It is not worthy of the voters' consideration, and it would be irresponsible for the commission to place it on the ballot.
This amendment would require voter approval of all new taxes and fees at any level of government. It also would limit the increase in revenue collected by state and local governments to 1 percent over the previous year, plus an adjustment to reflect inflation and population growth. Existing fees could be increased or the revenue cap could be exceeded only by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature or the local government board. This is a simplistic approach that may find appeal with voters frustrated by property taxes and the worsening economy, but it would create gridlock in a state that already faces more than its share of challenges.
Voters elect legislators, city council members, county commissioners and school board members to make decisions about raising revenue and spending priorities. This amendment eviscerates that democratic form of government in favor of direct democracy that is unworkable in the modern age and in communities so large and diverse. This is an era that requires leadership, not ironclad spending formulas and popular votes on every new tax or fee. It also is no panacea; Colorado voters agreed to loosen similar restrictions after that state began to strangle itself and could not meet the needs of its residents.
Taxes in Florida are unfair in many ways, from the inequities in property taxes created by Save Our Homes to the special interest exemptions that riddle the state sales tax. But this is not a high-tax state, and there already are plenty of hurdles to tax increases. Just a year ago, the Legislature imposed by statute new revenue caps on local governments. Extraordinary votes are required for new taxes to be approved by the Legislature and for new taxes to be added to the Constitution by the voters. The idea that Floridians are vulnerable to wild, irresponsible tax increases does not square with the facts.
Florida has enough tax and spending limits to digest and an apparent recession to overcome without this fight over a draconian amendment. There are the revenue caps from last year, and there are the changes to property taxes in Amendment 1 that were approved by the voters in January. In November, voters will have an opportunity to vote on another amendment that would substantially lower school property taxes and require the Legislature to replace the money by relying on a mix of options that include raising the state sales tax, cutting spending, raising other taxes or closing sales tax exemptions. Adding a misnamed taxpayer protection amendment on the ballot would only create more confusion and make it more difficult to provide the services and quality of life all Floridians want.
The Taxation and Budget Reform Commission should defeat this amendment today and spare this state a long fight over a proposal that has no redeeming qualities.