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Thursday, September 18, 2008

Amendments Overview

By: Sid Riley

The November ballot will include six amendments for your yes or no vote. Before you enter that booth you should be prepared to make these decisions. We are providing a brief overview of these amendments with the pro and con opinions on each. We hope this helps you in making your decision.
Originally there were nine amendments scheduled to be on the ballot. For various reasons, Amendments #5, #7, and #9 have been removed and will not appear on the ballot. Six remain and you should step into the booth with your opinion formed on each issue.
Amendment #1: Protects Rights of Inelegible Aliens to own property in Florida.
Discussion: At present the Florida Constitution allows our legislature to pass laws (if they desire) which would prohibit non-citizens from owning land. This amendment would assure these individuals the right to own Florida properties.
The legislature has never passed laws prohibiting aliens from owning property…but they could. This looming possibility prohibits many foreign concerns from considering investing in Florida developments. This amendment, if passed, would prohibit the legislature from passing ownership restrictive legislation.
Pro Arguments- Many feel that this existing loophole could sponsor discrimination against specific ethnic or racial groups.
Con Arguments- Many argue that the existing law should not be altered since it allows the legislature to react if needed against a homeland security issue involving a non-citizen residing in the state. They also feel the existing wording acts as a deterrent to illegal immigration.
Amendment #2: Marriage Definition Amendment
Discussion: This amendment defines marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman, and that no other type of union is treated as marriage.
Pro Arguments- This strict definition promotes family structures and family relationships. This amendment prohibits some liberal court interpretation from altering existing laws and rulings in this matter.
Con Arguments- One argument is that this amendment isn’t needed since we already have laws that essentially say the same thing. A second argument is that the amendment might encourage more "domestic partnerships" instead of marriages. A third argument is that in cases where couples have not married in order to maximize pension and social security benefits might also be denied other marriage benefits if this amendment is passed.
Amendment #3: Permanently exempts investments in energy saving devices and increased storm protection improvements from property assessment increases.
Discussion: Prohibits property assessments being raised when property owner invests in energy saving or storm protection enhancements. Also repeals existing 10 year time limit for exemption for energy saving devices.
Pro Arguments- These types of investments should be encouraged and those investing should not be penalized with higher taxes.
Con Arguments- The property value has been increased by the investment and should thus be taxed. Too many exemptions already exist.
Amendment #4: Provides for removal of property from tax rolls if set aside by government or private owners if encumbered by "perpetual conservation easements". Land is forever set aside as "green space" and can have no agricultural or commercial use. Thus will not be taxed.
Discussion: This would encourage government and private owners to set property aside for future generations in its natural, undisturbed state.
Pro Arguments- Florida’s growing population which is expected to reach 40 million by 2050 increases need for setting aside lands protected from urban sprawl and industry. Green space will become a smaller and smaller percentage of total acreage. This amendment will encourage governments and property owners to set more land aside for future populations to enjoy, since the land will be tax exempt.
Con Arguments – Setting land aside on the basis of "in perpetuity" is too restrictive. This wording could create future problems. It is impossible to anticipate what future conditions will warrant. Also, could be a huge tax benefit for large property owners who could set the land aside with no property taxes, and then enjoy the use of the land for hunting and fishing.
Amendment #5: Removing school taxes from property taxes and replacing school funding with state sales tax……………………REMOVED FROM BALLOT
Amendment #6: Protects waterfront business property from huge assessment increases because of the value enhancement created by nearby developments.
Discussion: Many small restaurants, marinas, bait shops, boat repair shops, etc. are being forced out of business because of soaring property taxes created when new development occurs in the area.
Pro Arguments- Taxes should be based on current use, not on some hypothetical best use of the property for tax generation purposes. Agricultural lands are already protected from increased valuation due to growth on adjacent properties. Tax paying small businesses should not be forced out of business because of tax policies.
Con Arguments – This just creates another tax break for special-interest groups. Could be used as a way for speculators to buy and hold lands while waiting for opportunity to come along. This causes others to pay more taxes.
Amendment #7: Religious Freedom Amendment. Enables faith based charities and schools to be eligible for programs that use public funds. …. REMOVED FROM BALLOT
Amendment #8: Enables county governments to levy local option taxes for community college funding, after voter approval.
Discussion: The existing system leaves the 28 community colleges in Florida at the mercy of the state legislature for their funding. This amendment enables local communities to create special taxes to assist their local community colleges when special needs arise.
Pro Arguments- Increases level of local control and local oversight over decisions relating to community college operations.
Con Arguments- This is just another way to increase taxes on the struggling taxpayers.
Amendment #9: Requires 65% of school funding to be spent on classroom related needs instead of administrative activities and functions. Over 400 school administrators in Dade County were found to be receiving six figure salaries……. THIS AMENDMENT HAS BEEN REMOVED FROM THE BALLOT.
Editors Note: We have attempted to present these amendments in plain language to facilitate understanding. We hope this helps.

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