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Florida constitutional amendments | Times Editorial Board recommendations
Voters will decide on three constitutional amendments on the Nov. 8 ballot
"I Voted" stickers
"I Voted" stickers [ ROBYN BECK/AFP | Getty Images North America ]
This article represents the opinion of the Tampa Bay Times Editorial Board.
Published Oct. 7|Updated Oct. 7

Florida voters face three amendments proposed to the state Constitution on the Nov. 8 general election ballot. All three were placed on the ballot by the Florida Legislature. Proposed amendments must be approved by at least 60% of the voters to take effect.

Related: Read the Times recommendations in other races.

Amendment 1 – Limits on taxes to flood-improved properties: No

Property in Florida must be assessed at market value for taxation purposes unless the state Constitution authorizes an exemption or exception. This amendment would authorize the Legislature to prohibit, for the purposes of determining a property’s tax, “any change or improvement” to that property’s resistance to flooding. The measure would take effect Jan. 1.

We get the point, especially with southwest Florida still reeling from the destruction of Hurricane Ian. Florida is uniquely threatened by extreme storms and sea level rise, dangers that will only increase over time. Offering an inducement for people to harden their properties could serve a broad public benefit, especially with more transplants moving to Florida every day.

But this provision is overly broad. Allowing “any change or improvement” to qualify for a tax break is an invitation to abuse. Building a seawall on waterfront property — fine. Same with reinforcing doors or electrical systems. But what about renovating property, or adding floors to existing structures, or building decks or other accessories that have less to do with flood protection than enjoying life?

Owners already have financial and personal incentives to improve their properties, and while the state has an interest in hardening against floods, putting a vague, tax-shifting mechanism in the state Constitution is not the way to promote it.

On Amendment 1, the Tampa Bay Times recommends a No vote.

Amendment 2 – Abolish the Constitution Revision Commission: No

This measure is self-serving even for this Legislature, and voters should reject it.

As it stands, an amendment to the Florida Constitution can get on the ballot in several ways, including by a vote of the Legislature, a citizens’ initiative, a constitutional convention, a proposal from the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission or a proposal from the Constitution Revision Commission.

The state Constitution requires that the CRC be established every 20 years (it most recently convened in 2017-18) and that it be composed of 37 members. The state attorney general must serve on the commission, and the rest of the members must be chosen by the governor (15), House speaker (9), Senate president (9) and the chief justice of the Florida Supreme Court (3).

The Constitution provides little direction for how the commission must operate, aside from prescribing some general rules about meetings. Critics say the commission is too politically charged and too often bundles multiple subjects into a single ballot question.

The commission has its flaws. But a better remedy is for the governor and Legislature to make bipartisan appointments, and for CRC members to propose single-issue questions for the ballot. Eliminating the CRC reduces the number of ways that Floridians can modify their Constitution. Citizens have launched petition drives in recent years to address a number of priorities (the environment, felon voting rights) in the face of the Legislature’s refusal to act. In response, the Legislature has already made it harder for citizen petitions to reach the ballot. This measure is just yet another move by the power brokers in Tallahassee to consolidate power and ignore the voters’ will. And with the commission not scheduled to convene again until 2037, voters hardly have a reason to entertain this nonsense now.

On Amendment 2, the Tampa Bay Times recommends a No vote.

Amendment 3 – Additional homestead property tax break for certain workers: No

Permanent Florida residents are eligible for a homestead property tax exemption of up to $25,000. An additional homestead exemption (for non-school tax levies) of up to $25,000 applies to the property’s value between $50,000 and $75,000. This amendment would authorize the Legislature to provide an additional $50,000 exemption (also for non-school levies) on the value of property between $100,000 and $150,000 for “specified critical public services” workers, which would include first responders, teachers and others. This amendment would take effect Jan. 1.

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Supporters maintain that Florida’s spiking home prices have made it difficult to attract and retain critical workers, and that this provision would help boost the labor market while encouraging home ownership. In reality, this carve-out creates further inequities and headaches while doing little to help those professions that ostensibly stand to benefit.

The measure would apply to classroom teachers, law enforcement officers, correctional officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, child welfare services professionals, active-duty members of the armed force and members of the Florida National Guard. Guards at private prisons contracted by the state or local governments also would be eligible. But support staff at school districts and law enforcement agencies would not.

Also not covered — the many police officers, teachers and others who rent rather than own their homes. This provision might benefit some existing homeowners but does little to help first-time homebuyers in these professions. County property appraisers would be forced to verify thousands if not tens of thousands of applications, creating another unfunded mandate from Tallahassee. If approved, the measure is expected to sap local government revenues by about $86 million a year, growing to $96 million in 2026. And taxpayers across the state would have to backfill the losses (another $3 million annually) in Florida’s poorest counties, which currently make up nearly half of the 67 total counties in Florida.

This is a messy, halfhearted and unfair way to assist this critical public workforce. There’s an easy way to help cops, firefighters, prison guards and teachers. We’ve said it before and will say it again: Pay these professionals what they’re worth.

The Legislature wants credit for helping a critical workforce without actually doing anything meaningful. By rejecting this scheme, voters would send a message to get serious and start raising these workers’ pay.

On Amendment 3, the Tampa Bay Times recommends a No vote.

Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.

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