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This series on the four Constitutional amendments on the Nov. 6 ballot was provided by the St. Petersburg Area League of Women Voters. Amendments to the Florida Constitution must be approved by a majority of people voting on them in a general or special election. Amendments can be placed on the ballot in five ways: joint resolutions approved by three-fifths vote of both houses of the Legislature; action of the Constitutional Revision Commission, which convenes every 20 years; citizen petition initiatives, requiring signatures equaling 8 percent of votes cast in the last preceding general election; action of a Constitutional Convention, convened by citizen petition initiative; and action by the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, which convenes every 10 years.

Of the 79 constitutional amendments placed on the Florida ballot since 1968, 65 were joint resolutions of the Legislature, six were citizen initiatives, and eight were proposed by the Constitutional Revision Commission. Three of the citizen initiatives have been approved: the Sunshine Amendment, the Florida Lottery, and English as the official language in Florida. As of April 30, 1990, 10 officially approved petition initiatives were active. Florida is among a minority of states (15) that provide for constitutional amendment by citizen initiative.

The four amendments on the Nov. 6 ballot (called propositions) are all joint resolutions of the Legislature. Propositions 1, 2 and 3 were approved during the 1989 session, and No. 4 during the 1990 session. Propositions 2, 3 and 4 are similar to petition initiatives. Although the petitions contain more restrictive language than exists in the joint resolutions, at least two of the three sponsors of the petitions are satisfied with the joint resolution language.

Proposition No. 3

Summary: Excuses counties and municipalities from complying with general laws requiring them to spend funds unless the law fulfills an important state interest, and it is enacted by two-thirds vote, or financing sources are provided, or certain other conditions are met. Prohibits general laws that have certain negative fiscal consequences for counties and municipalities unless enacted by two-thirds vote. Exempts certain categories of laws from these requirements.

Local elected officials long have chafed over state mandates. Mandates specifically are defined in Florida Statutes, Sec. 11.076, as those state actions that impose costs upon local government through erosion of the local tax base, through a requirement to perform an activity or through a requirement to provide a service or facility. The power of the Legislature to impose mandates is granted by the Constitution.

Proposition No. 3 protects local governments from state mandated programs unless the Legislature has determined that the mandate would fulfill an important state interest or the state government provides financing; or the Legislature authorizes the local governing body; or the mandate is approved by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature; or the mandate is required to comply with a law that applies to all people in similar situations, including state and local governments; or the mandate is required to comply with a federal law; or the mandate is necessary to qualify for a federal grant, which requires compliance by local governments.

The amendment protects laws enacted before Feb. 1, 1989, that authorize local governments to increase money and percentages of state taxes shared with local governments unless a change is approved by a two-thirds vote of the Legislature, or a fiscal emergency is declared in writing by the president of the Senate and the speaker of the House, or an alternative revenue source is provided.

Certain laws dealing with specific areas of government have been exempted because they are not a concern to the original presenters of the amendment. They are listed in sub-section d of the complete proposition. Finally, the amendment authorizes the Legislature to enact laws for implementation and enforcement.

Although most mandates have an insignificant fiscal impact on local governments, some have considerable impact, such as those dealing with pensions, police standards, recycling and growth management. Counties are hit particularly hard with their financing responsibilities for Article V (judiciary) costs.

There is precise data on numbers of bills containing mandates, but the actual dollar impacts are difficult to calculate in any standardized way. The financial impact on any local government also depends on the financial condition of that government. Some cities and counties in Florida are at or near their capacity to generate revenues. Any mandate requiring local funds may cause these governments to raise taxes to the absolute limit or to reduce existing local programs.

Mandates on local governments are not unique to Florida. However, Florida is unique in the severity of constitutional and statutory revenue-limiting restrictions placed on local governments.

The Constitution gives the state control of all forms of taxation except one: Ad valorem taxes on real property are solely for the use of municipalities and counties. Yet this tax may be the only revenue source municipalities and counties can tap to finance mandates.

Because the ad valorem tax is one of the most visible (and therefore most disliked) taxes, local elected officials are put in a bad political position when they must raise the millage to finance mandates. Also, the state Constitution limits cities, counties and school boards to 10 mills of ad valorem taxes each. And the Legislature annually sets the millage amount school boards must charge to participate in the state finance program.

The increasing number of bills containing mandates, the continuing tight financial condition of local governments (particularly since federal revenue sharing stopped in 1985) and the reluctance of the Legislature to give local government more options for financing local needs resulted in the threat of a petition initiative by the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties for a constitutional amendment prohibiting state mandates.

In 1989, the Legislature voted to place this constitutional amendment on the ballot. It is noteworthy that in 1989 the Legislature also passed 42 percent fewer bills containing mandates.

Those who favor this amendment do so because, in most cases, the Legislature would have to use state revenue to pay for programs it wants local governments to provide, or not require local governments to provide those programs. State taxes may have to be increased to finance future mandates. However, the value of a mandate would be weighed against the impact of raising taxes to pay for it. Also, because more support and effort will be required by the Legislature to impose unfunded mandates on local governments, there will be fewer. Finally, the Legislature's appropriation of local governments' discretionary funds will be significantly diminished.

Those who oppose Proposition No. 3 believe its language is complicated and its exceptions are many and, in some instances, vague. Therefore, varying interpretations may make implementation difficult.

- Ann Dixcy is voter service chairwoman of the St. Petersburg Area League of Women Voters.

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