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Recommendations: Constitutional amendments

October 22, 2010
Cape Coral Daily Breeze

In addition to federal, state and local races, the Nov. 2 General Election ballot includes six proposed amendments to the state constitution.

Voters will decide whether to repeal an amendment establishing public financing for political campaigns; whether to provide a Homestead tax exemption to property owners who are deployed military personnel; whether to require voter approval for changes to comprehensive, or land use, plans; whether to establish new standards for how legislative and congressional districts are established and whether to revise class size requirements.

Some of these initiatives, such as a requirement that major land use changes be brought to the voters and the so-called class size amendment, have drawn much debate.

Others, such as the proposal to provide a tax break to military personnel serving overseas, have drawn little.

The Breeze Newspapers editorial board has studied the pros and cons of the proposed amendments, looked at sponsorship as well as who has come out for or against each measure and has developed some recommendations.

We do not have a recommendation for each amendment and, instead, will list some of the pros and cons for Amendment No. 1, Repeal of Public Campaign Financing Requirement, and Nos. 5 and 6, Standards for Legislature to Follow in Legislative and Congressional Redistricting, respectively.

Amendment No. 1

REPEAL OF PUBLIC CAMPAIGN FINANCING REQUIREMENT

Ballot Summary: Proposing the repeal of the provision in the State Constitution that requires public financing of campaigns of candidates for elective statewide office who agree to campaign spending limits.

The Florida Legislature sponsored the proposal.

In 1998, voters approved a measure designed to "level the playing field" in state races by providing public funding to candidates who met certain conditions related to fund raising. Ten states do this.

Those who support the amendment - which would do away with the current public funding system - point to a substantial increase of spending limits by the state legislature in 2005. This, proponents say, circumvents the intent of the provision passed by voters which established voluntary spending limits in exchange for public money.

Those who urge a "no" vote say there has been little to no public demand for change and the repeal of public financing would reduce the number of people who would be able to seek office.

Recommendation: No position taken

Amendment No. 2

HOMESTEAD AD VALOREM TAX CREDIT FOR DEPLOYED MILITARY PERSONNEL

Ballot Summary: Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to require the Legislature to provide an additional homestead property tax exemption by law for members of the United States military or military reserves, the United States Coast Guard or its reserves, or the Florida National Guard who receive a homestead exemption and were deployed in the previous year on active duty outside the continental United States, Alaska, or Hawaii in support of military operations designated by the Legislature. The exempt amount will be based upon the number of days in the previous calendar year that the person was deployed on active duty outside the continental United States, Alaska, or Hawaii in support of military operations designated by the Legislature. The amendment is scheduled to take effect January 1, 2011.

The Florida Legislature sponsored the proposal.

If passed, the amendment would provide military personnel who are deployed with short-term property tax relief. The exact amount to be exempted would be decided by the state legislature and would be formulated based on the number of days served overseas. The state has estimated that at current tax rates, the provision could equate to $13 million statewide, annually.

Proponents of the measure, which received unanimous approval for placement on the ballot, say it's little enough for the state to do for those serving.

There has been no organized opposition.

Recommendation: Vote YES. We agree, a small, short-term tax break for those serving is little enough in the way of mitigating some of the costs to those deployed. We urge a YES vote on Amendment 2.

Amendment No. 4

REFERENDA REQUIRED FOR ADOPTION AND AMENDMENT OF LOCAL GOVERNMENT COMPREHENSIVE LAND USE PLANS

Ballot Summary: Establishes that before a local government may adopt a new comprehensive land use plan, or amend a comprehensive land use plan, the proposed plan or amendment shall be subject to vote of the electors of the local government by referendum, following preparation by the local planning agency, consideration by the governing body and notice. Provides definitions.

The amendment was placed on the ballot by Florida Hometown Democracy, Inc., a Political Action Committee.

Proponents say the measure will put land use decisions back in the hands of the people. Opponents cite a number of reasons voters should reject the measure: It would replace public input with deep-pocket campaigns to sway voters, it would stymie development at a time when economic recovery is crucial, it would force multiple and costly special elections and local governments would incur the additional related cost.

Recommendation: Vote NO on Amendment 4.

Count us among those who refuse to refer to Amendment 4 as "Hometown Democracy." It is anything but.

Despite its innocuous billing on the ballot and its designed-to-mislead popular moniker, Amendment 4 would render public hearings, neighborhood input and levels of review moot as they could be circumvented at the polls by slick special-interest campaigns and confusing ballot summaries.

Meanwhile the costs for pricey special elections, for lawyers if the proposed ballot language is challenged, and the requisite politicking could quash small projects.

One study, provided by the Washington Economic Group, estimates Amendment 4 would reduce state economic output by $34 billion per year, costing the state an estimated 267,247 jobs.

Opponents also correctly point out that the Amendment 4 concept has already failed on a small-scale basis. St. Pete Beach has been embroiled in taxpayer-funded litigation since voters bought the idea there in 2006.

Vote NO on Amendment 4. Land use decisions should not be politicized, nor can Floridians afford to pay the price in terms of real costs and jobs lost.

Amendment No. 5

STANDARDS FOR LEGISLATURE TO FOLLOW IN LEGISLATIVE REDISTRICTING

Summary: Legislative districts or districting plans may not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party. Districts shall not be drawn to deny racial or language minorities the equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice. Districts must be contiguous. Unless otherwise required, districts must be compact, as equal in population as feasible, and where feasible must make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries.

Amendment No. 6

STANDARDS FOR LEGISLATURE TO FOLLOW IN CONGRESSIONAL REDISTRICTING

Summary: Congressional districts or districting plans may not be drawn to favor or disfavor an incumbent or political party. Districts shall not be drawn to deny racial or language minorities the equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice. Districts must be contiguous. Unless otherwise required, districts must be compact, as equal in population as feasible, and where feasible must make use of existing city, county and geographical boundaries.

The measures were sponsored by FairDistrictsFlorida.org.

Proponents of Amendments 5 and 6 say the proposals would set non-political standards for redistricting, reducing gerrymandering and districting to benefit incumbents. Opponents say it sounds good but won't accomplish those goals. What's more it would be difficult or impossible to enforce.

Recommendation: No position taken.

Amendment No. 8

REVISION OF THE CLASS SIZE REQUIREMENTS FOR PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Summary: The Florida Constitution currently limits the maximum number of students assigned to each teacher in public school classrooms in the following grade groupings: for prekindergarten through grade 3, 18 students; for grades 4 through 8, 22 students; and for grades 9 through 12, 25 students. Under this amendment, the current limits on the maximum number of students assigned to each teacher in public school classrooms would become limits on the average number of students assigned per class to each teacher, by specified grade grouping, in each public school. This amendment also adopts new limits on the maximum number of students assigned to each teacher in an individual classroom as follows: for prekindergarten through grade 3, 21 students; for grades 4 through 8, 27 students; and for grades 9 through 12, 30 students. This amendment specifies that class size limits do not apply to virtual classes, requires the Legislature to provide sufficient funds to maintain the average number of students required by this amendment, and schedules these revisions to take effect upon approval by the electors of this state and to operate retroactively to the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year.

The Florida Legislature sponsored the proposal.

Proponents of the revision -which include the School District of Lee County - say the amendment would give school districts flexibility and would save money.

Opponents say voters approved smaller class sizes in 2002, setting class sizes on a class-per-class basis and giving school districts ample time to phase in the requirements.

Opponents also say that smaller classes mean a better education.

Recommendation: Vote YES on Amendment 8.

Smaller classes are but one component of a quality education and we are not convinced that either the small bump proposed or giving school districts some flexibility for classroom staffing would be detrimental to students.

Certainly voters have the right to reconsider, and amend, proposals passed to keep them current. Certainly voters have the right to re-evaluate costs and benefits.

The revision is a reasonable one and it will save money, something much needed in these economic times. Education will not suffer. We recommend a YES vote on Amendment 8.

- Breeze editorial

 
 

 

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