Opponents of Amendment 3 hold news conference in Tampa

Published Oct. 5, 2012

TAMPA — As activists, School Board members and reporters strolled past the schoolyard of Kings Christian Academy on Thursday, the kindergarteners didn't look up from their game of jump rope.

It was recess. And the laughing children seemed largely unaware their teacher had transformed their colorful Tampa classroom into a place of political activism.

Standing on a carpet decorated with ABCs, seven community leaders and educators urged people to vote no on Florida's Amendment 3, which would impose stricter limits on how much the state can take from taxpayers.

The Nov. 6 ballot will have 11 amendments. Each must win 60 percent approval to be added to the state Constitution.

If Amendment 3 passes, warned one speaker after another Thursday, the state will have less money for schools, health care and other services.

"It's scary, absolutely scary to me as an educator," said Hillsborough County School Board member April Griffin, referencing deep county budget cuts to education. "Right now we're barely keeping our head above water. We've cut the fat and we're down to the marrow."

If passed, Amendment 3 would impose a new inflation and population-based formula for calculating the state's revenue cap, the limit on how much the state can collect. Florida's revenue cap formula is based on annual changes to citizens' personal income.

If the state were to collect money above the cap, the dollars would go into Florida's rainy day fund and then into a fund for public education, under the proposal. It's unlikely education would ever see the extra money, Griffin said.

Darden Rice, president of the League of Women Voters in St. Petersburg, also took issue with the bill's name, known as The Taxpayer Bill of Rights. "That's confusing and deceptive," she said.

About 30 states have already considered and rejected similar amendments, she added.

Colorado implemented a similar bill in 1992, but faced economic troubles until lawmakers eventually relaxed it. Florida's bill is less strict than Colorado's. "This is financial quicksand," Rice said.

The educators' worries are not without merit, said Tony Carvajal, chief operating officer of the nonpartisan Collins Center for Public Policy. Every year, there's pressure for all government arms that rely on general revenue, he said.

"If they are competing in a limited cash environment, their concerns might be realized," he said.

Even under the current formula, Gov. Rick Scott cut $1.2 billion from the state's education budget in 2011, although he restored most of it the next year.

Seniors, unions and some religious groups also have vocally opposed the amendment.

Backers of the ballot item say it would be a self-imposed restraint on government growth, and require more efficiency.

Edie Ousley, spokeswoman for the Florida Chamber of Commerce, said the bill would ensure the size of Florida's government won't grow faster than citizens' capacity to pay for it.

"When the government takes less out of people's pockets, that allows businesses to hire additional employees, it allows employees to keep more in their pockets, and it allows parents to add more to their kids' educations however they see fit," she said.