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Constitutional Queries

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  • | 1:07 p.m. October 29, 2010
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Since 2000, Florida has had 14 ballot initiatives and all 14 won voter approval. In 2006, the state Constitution was amended to require a minimum 60% voter approval instead of a simple majority. It passed with 58% support. If all 14 initiatives had required 60% approval, only five would have passed.

On Nov. 2, voters get to weigh-in on six amendments after court decisions knocked three off the ballot. How these proposed amendments are decided could have significant and lasting political, economic, fiscal and quality of life impacts on state residents.


Repeal of Public Campaign Financing Requirement

Summary: Proposes the repeal of the provision that requires public financing of campaigns of candidates for elective statewide office — the governor and Cabinet — who agree to campaign spending limits.

Sponsor/Originator: Florida Legislature

“Welfare for politicians” is the common phrase used by supporters of this amendment, which includes legislative leaders who voted in 2009 to place it on the ballot.

That a catch phrase is hard to rebut considering that more than $27 million of public funds have been spent on governor and cabinet races since 1994, according to the Collins Center for Public Policy.

“That number would have been much higher if former Gov. Jeb Bush had not refused to take public money during his three campaigns,” according to the Collins Center on its Web site. In 2006, the last statewide election cycle, the candidates for governor and cabinet posts soaked up $11.1 million from the public trough.

With the state still in fiscal tightening mode, and looking at filling at least a $2.5 billion budget hole next year, the Legislature sees this as a one way to trim some fat when candidates can — and perhaps should — raise campaign dollars themselves.

Public campaign financing isn't something that's caught on much in other states. Only nine states provide financing for gubernatorial candidates, according to the Collins Center. Only eight others fund candidates for other statewide offices.


Homestead Ad Valorem Tax Credit for Deployed Military Personnel

Summary: Would 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.

Sponsor/Originator: Florida Legislature

Easily the least controversial of the amendments, this homestead property tax exemption for military personnel deployed in the previous year sailed through both houses of the Legislature with unanimous votes.

The exempt amount will be based on the number of days deployed the previous calendar year. If deployed for half a year, the exemption would be 50%. If deployed the whole year, then no property tax would be due on the homesteaded property. The exemption applies to all county, city, school district, and special district levies.

Assuming current property tax rates, the tax break would cost roughly $13 million had it been in effect in fiscal year 2009-10, according to state revenue estimating conferences. The state group also estimates that approximately 25,525 military personnel claiming Florida as their home were stationed in Iraq in 2008. Should it pass, it will go into effect Jan. 1.


Standards for Legislature to Follow in Legislative and Congressional Redistricting (respectively)

Summary: Legislative and congressional districts 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.


These two amendments being pushed by largely left-wing advocates could be put in the “be careful what you wish for” category.

Every 10 years, after the census, the boundaries of congressional, legislative districts are redrawn for the primary purpose of maintaining districts roughly equal in population. The Legislature will approve a new redistricting plan in 2012.

On its Web site, argues: “No matter which party has control of the Legislature, that party's main goal is to protect its majority in as many districts as possible while concentrating the strength of the other party into as few districts as possible. This is called partisan political gerrymandering.”

But if the results of a recent comprehensive academic study of Florida's legislative and congressional districts are valid, then the whole premise of Amendments 5 and 6 — that GOP control of the Legislature and the congressional delegation is the result of gerrymandering — is false.

That study by Stanford University political scientist Jonathan Rodden and University of Michigan professor Jowei Chen, instead concludes that it is the geographic concentration of Democrats in urban areas, such as Tampa and Miami, that results in wasted votes and their failure to elect representatives in proportion to their registration.

The study states, “ ... that Democrats not only waste more votes in the districts they lose, but they also rack up more surplus votes in the districts they win.”

The study's authors, in fact, suggest Democrats do the opposite of what Amendments 5 and 6 call for:

“The best hope for Democrats to reclaim the Florida Congressional delegation or state Legislature is to insist on a districting scheme that minimizes the importance of compactness. In fact, the only way for Democrats to obtain a seat share that approximates their vote share in Florida would be to strategically draw long, narrow districts shaped like pie slices emanating from downtown Miami and Tampa into the suburban and rural periphery.”


Revision of the Class Size Requirements for Public Schools

Summary: 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 grade, in each public school.

Sponsor/Originator: Florida Legislature

Under this revision to the third and final phase of class size reduction requirements, the size limits for three different grade groupings would become more flexible — and come with considerable savings to taxpayers.

For example, rather than a hard cap of 25 students for each classroom in grades 9 through 12, the limit would be based on the average number of students assigned per class to each teacher with a maximum of 30 students in any one class.

In kindergarten through third grade the maximum of 18 becomes the average with a limit of 21; and for middle school the maximum of 22 becomes the average with a cap of 27.

With at least a $2.5 billion state budget deficit estimated for fiscal year 2011-12, the Legislature was compelled to put this one on the ballot. By one state estimate, part of that deficit comes from an additional $353 million in added school operating costs to implement the final phase of class size reduction.

On top of district and school level class size amendment costs rolling over from previous years, that brings the projected expense to $3.2 billion in total class size reduction costs for the 2010-11 fiscal year.

A total of $19 billion will have been spent to implement class size reductions since voters approved it in 2002. Class size reductions began a phase-in with the 2003-04 school year, but have now reached the final phase that establishes what school administrators and legislators argue is too inflexible a cap for each classroom.

In Manatee County, because it's less costly, the school district is choosing to pay penalties rather than fully implement the latest class size limits.

more information

For more information about the six constitutional amendments on the ballot and the three amendments removed from it, go to the Collins Center for Public Policy Web site section on the 2010 Florida Amendments at For the study on “Why Compact, Contiguous Districts are Bad for the Democrats,” see The James Madison Institute also has a rundown of the amendments at


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