Voters will face six questions on the Nov. 4 ballot asking them to amend the Florida Constitution. Each will require a 60 percent approval to be adopted.
All but two of the measures on the ballot were proposed by the Florida Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, a citizen panel that is convened every 20 years under the state Constitution to propose changes to the stateÍs financial system. Three of the commissionÍs proposals, numbers 3, 4, and 6, deal with changing property taxes; a fourth proposal, number 8, would allow local communities to establish an optional sales tax for a local community college.
Amendment 1 was proposed by the Florida Legislature. And Amendment 2 is on the ballot as a result of a citizen petition.
Three other amendments proposed by the tax commission are not on the ballot because they were removed by the Florida Supreme Court for various reasons. Amendment 5 would have abolished most school property taxes in exchange for a higher sales tax and Amendments 7 and 9 would have removed legal roadblocks to establishing a broad statewide private school voucher program.
A summary of the measures on the ballot:
Declaration of rights: This deletes language from the state Constitution that dates to 1926, which allowed the Legislature to create laws to prevent aliens ineligible for citizenship from owning property. The Legislature never enacted a law to enforce this.
In 2007, legislators, some of whom called the provision discriminatory, agreed to ask voters to delete the provision.
Florida was among several states in the early 20th Century that aimed to restrict land rights. Federal law at that time only allowed free white persons and those of African descent to be citizens. While the provision was broadly worded to impact all aliens who couldnÍt get citizenship, the provision was directed at Japanese, according to a legislative analysis.
Marriage: This proposal is aimed at same-sex marriage and would define marriage in the state Constitution as between one man and one woman. It also states that the state would not be able to recognize any "substantial equivalent" as marriage.
State law already limits marriage to between a man and woman, but the group that put this measure on the ballot, Florida4marriage, said the constitutional change is needed to prevent lawmakers from changing the law or judges from overturning the law.
ThereÍs concern that passage of this amendment could impact public employers, like University of Florida or city of Tampa, from providing domestic partner benefits to employees who are part of a same-sex couple.
Energy/hurricane tax break: This proposal grows out of complaints that property appraisers are penalizing people who try to improve the safety and efficiency of their homes.
Under the amendment, owners of homes and other residential property would receive small property tax breaks for improvements in energy efficiency and hurricane protection, such as permanent shutters.
The Legislature would have to write a law instructing property appraisers not to include those items when assessing home value.
The downside: The tax savings could be minimal, an estimated $15 for each of the 225,370 homeowners who would likely qualify in the first year, according to a state analysis.
The upside: Improvements could help bring lower insurance premiums and lower utility bills.
Conservation lands: The proposal, which was advanced by the stateÍs largest private landowner, has a simple pitch: Keep your land green forever, and youÍll never pay property taxes on it again.
Land held in perpetuity for conservation would be exempt from property taxes, and other conservation lands would be taxed based on their current use rather than their "highest and best," or potential use.
The proposal was pushed by an executive for the St. Joe Co. who sat on the state Taxation and Budget Reform Commission. It has widespread support among environmental groups, including the Florida Wildlife Federation, Nature Conservancy and Audubon of Florida.
Landowners would have to sign a conservation easement on their land to restrict its use "in perpetuity."
Critics say public access may not be guaranteed and millions in tax dollars would be removed from city and county coffers. Some worry that landowners could try to wriggle out of the agreements and later develop the land.
"As with any proposal, the devil will be in the details," observes Florida TaxWatch, a watchdog group in Tallahassee. "How effective this will be depends in large part on implementation by the Legislature."
Waterfront taxes: Marinas, commercial fishing facilities and other "working waterfront" businesses could receive a property tax break because the property would be assessed according to current use rather than potential use.
Waterfront business owners have long complained that their taxes are skyrocketing because property appraisers value the land on its "highest and best" use, not its current use. That pressure has led some to sell out to large developers who put up condominiums.
But some property appraisers have resisted the proposal, saying highest and best is an equitable standard to evaluate land value, not unlike how homes in a certain neighborhood get a boost when a more expensive home is built. In their view, the market should dictate value.
The proposal is fairly narrowly drawn and affects property predominately used for commercial fishing, boat launches into public waters and marinas. Mom and pop hotels and stores along the waterfront would not qualify and they are some of the hardest hit by increased property taxes.
Community college tax: The proposal would allow individual community colleges to petition their local voters for a local sales tax. Such a tax would be on top of the stateÍs existing 6 percent sales tax and any other local option taxes.
The tax, which would need approval by voters in each county the school serves, would sunset after five years.
Florida has 28 community colleges that serve 800,000 students. Advocates say the system should be better funded and argue that a local referendum puts that decision directly in the community.
Ballot language for amendments
1: Declaration of rights
Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to delete provisions authorizing the Legislature to regulate or prohibit the ownership, inheritance, disposition, and possession of real property by aliens ineligible for citizenship.
2: Florida marriage protection amendment
This amendment protects marriage as the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife and provides that no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.
3: Changes and improvements not affecting the assessed value of residential real property
Authorizes the Legislature, by general law, to prohibit consideration of changes or improvements to residential real property which increase resistance to wind damage and installation of renewable energy source devices as factors in assessing the propertyÕs value for ad valorem taxation purposes. Effective upon adoption, repeals the existing renewable energy source device exemption no longer in effect.
4: Property tax exemption of perpetually conserved land; classification and assessment of land used for conservation
Requires Legislature to provide a property tax exemption for real property encumbered by perpetual conservation easements or other perpetual conservation protections, defined by general law. Requires Legislature to provide for classification and assessment of land used for conservation purposes, and not perpetually encumbered, solely on the basis of character or use. Subjects assessment benefit to conditions, limitations, and reasonable definitions established by general law. Applies to property taxes beginning in 2010.
6: Assessment of working waterfront property based upon current use
Provides for assessment based upon use of land used predominantly for commercial fishing purposes; land used for vessel launches into waters that are navigable and accessible to the public; marinas and drystacks that are open to the public; and water-dependent marine manufacturing facilities, commercial fishing facilities, and marine vessel construction and repair facilities and their support activities, subject to conditions, limitations, and reasonable definitions specified by general law.
8: Local option community college funding
Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to require that the Legislature authorize counties to levy a local option sales tax to supplement community college funding; requiring voter approval to levy the tax; providing that approved taxes will sunset after 5 years and may be reauthorized by the voters.