1. Florida

Florida lawmaker proposes higher threshold for off-cycle tax referenda

Hernando County voters approved a local sales tax for schools in an off-year election.
Hernando County voters approved a local sales tax for schools in an off-year election.
Published Sep. 14, 2017

With revenue stagnant, and a new requirement to share local capital resources with charter schools, Florida school districts are increasingly talking about asking voters to impose higher sales taxes on themselves to help pay for school construction and maintenance needs.

The Okaloosa County School Board agreed this week to hold a referendum in May. Hillsborough and Pasco County board members are considering their options, too.

Related coverage: Hillsborough officials: New sales tax may be the only way to fix schools

As they move forward, though, Pinellas County Sen. Jeff Brandes wants to ensure the moves have as much public participation as possible. He has floated legislation that would require more than a simple majority for any tax referendum that takes place outside a general election. With SB 272, any referendum not occurring on a general election ballot would require 60 percent of the votes.

"When you have a general election, you have a more engaged electorate," Brandes explained.

In the past, some school districts and other governments have held tax votes in off years, or as special elections. "If you want to offer [a referendum] in some low turnout election, you would have to meet a higher threshold," Brandes said

Its a slightly different version of a bill that didn't make it out of the 2016 or 2017 legislative sessions. But Brandes anticipated stronger interest this year.

"I think there's a lot of discussion about tax policy," he said. "This is a simple, straight-forward way to ensure hardworking taxpayers in Florida are being treated fairly, that there aren't any tricks and games being played."

So far, there's no House companion.


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