Amendments under the radar
The proposed "Hometown Democracy" constitutional amendment that would require voters to approve changes in local land-use plans is generating a lot of political fire. Proposed amendments on the drawing of legislative and congressional districts and easing state's class-size limits also are drawing attention.
Statewide voters will be offered two other amendments and will be asked their opinion on balancing the federal budget - an issue we'll address another day. The two proposed amendments are:
Former Gov. Jeb Bush famously called public campaign financing "welfare for politicians," and lawmakers who agree with him want citizens to repeal the state's campaign finance system by adopting Amendment 1.
Voters should be wary, particularly conservative voters who may think campaign financing only helps Democrats.
If public campaign financing is scrapped, candidates favored by the political elite or those who are independently wealthy will be given an even bigger advantage over grassroots campaigns, which are as likely to boost conservatives as liberals.
Former state Comptroller Bob Milligan, a conservative Republican, is an example. He credited campaign financing with his ability to oust an entrenched Democrat in 1994. Milligan was vastly outspent, but public financing allowed him to reach voters with his message of fiscal reform.
Statewide candidates now can get tax dollars for their campaigns if they agree to limit campaign spending ($24.9 million for governor; $12.5 million for Cabinet races). Only contributions of $250 or less are eligible for the state's matching funds, so candidates are more likely to seek support from individuals and small groups rather than rely on powerful special interests.
If a participating candidate's opponent spends more than the limit, additional dollars are provided.
Candidates are not required to participate and can spend as much as they please. Rick Scott spent more than $50 million of his money in the GOP gubernatorial primary and then successfully sued to prevent Attorney General Bill McCollum from receiving additional matching funds.
The system is imperfect, and it's true the state could use the roughly $11 million that goes to campaign financing for other needs, but eliminating the state's public campaign financing would make it even more difficult for citizens to challenge the political elite. On Amendment 1, The Tampa Tribune urges a no vote.
This amendment proposed by the Legislature would provide an additional homestead exemption to members of the military serving overseas.
The percentage of the exemption would be determined by calculating the percentage of a year that homeowner served abroad.
Thus, a person serving half a year would receive a 50 percent exemption. If one served the entire year, the individual would be exempted from all property taxes, including county, city, school and special districts.
Hillsborough already provides a property-tax grant to military personnel serving in combat zones.
Military operations qualifying a homeowner for the exemption would be designated by the Legislature.
The Florida Revenue Estimating Conference estimated the tax break would have had a $13 million statewide financial impact in fiscal year 2009-2010, which would have had modest impact on local governments. It also estimated the proposal would benefit more than 25,000 military personnel and would reduce the average tax bill by $1,500.
The exemption would not help military personnel who are renters or do not own their dwelling.
It can be argued the measure would make Florida's property tax system even more inequitable, favoring certain military personnel over others, just as the Save Our Homes provision favors certain homeowners over others.
But the cost is modest, and the tax break would provide much-needed aid to some of those serving our country.
On Amendment 2, The Tampa Tribune recommends a yes vote.
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