Tax swap amendment sinks
The Supremes have spoken. No, not the 1960s singing group, but the Florida Supreme Court. Last Wednesday the Florida Supreme Court dealt the final death blow to Amendment 5, commonly known as the tax swap amendment.
Amendment 5 was designed to provide tax relief for Florida homeowners by eliminating the portion of property taxes that the state government requires to fund schools. The loss in tax dollars would be offset by a combination of cutting budgets and increasing sales tax. The clarity of the amendment’s wording was challenged relative to funding schools after the first budget year and was subsequently removed from the Nov. 4 ballot in August by a circuit court judge.
The decision was appealed to the Florida Supreme Court, which unanimously agreed with the original circuit judge’s decision that the ballot summary was misleading. The decision stated the amendment did not indicate the promise to replace the lost revenue extended beyond the first year. This definitively removes the possibility of voting on the amendment in November. The high court also struck Amendment 7 and Amendment 9 from the ballot pertaining to school vouchers and budget requirements respectively.
One of the defenders of Amendment 5 was Mark Herron, a Florida Association of Realtors lawyer, who argued the ballot language was "accurate as to what the amendment does." He claimed the challenge to the ballot language was not misleading and indicated political reasons were to blame for its demise. These amendments were placed on the ballot by the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, and it was clear in the Supreme Court’s decision that it felt the commission may have overstepped and expanded its agenda relative to taxation and budget issues.
The removal of the amendment from the ballot has all but eliminated any tax reform along these lines for the foreseeable future. The Taxation and Budget Reform Commission only meets every 20 years, and another commission, the state Constitution Revision Commission, which could put the proposal back on the ballot, is not scheduled to meet for 10 years. The Florida Legislature has the ability to consider this proposal but has indicated they are not inclined to do so.
State Rep. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, who supported the amendment, indicated, "I think it’s unfortunate that these amendments are not going before the voters."
He further stated, "It is something that I think was really needed to generate movement in our real estate market that would in turn generate economic health that we need so badly right now."
As much as I sometimes hate to agree with elected officials, I do agree with Galvano. As I indicated in August when this issue first came up, if Florida doesn’t enact a fair and balanced property tax system, our ability to compete and attract new residents to our state will be damaged. The trickle-down effect of that will impact all businesses ultimately reducing school funding, exactly what the Florida Supreme Court’s ruling is attempting to protect. The real estate market is very fragile right now, and it won’t take a lot to push it one way or another. Let’s hope the Supreme Court’s decision doesn’t slow down what was looking to be a nice little turn around in the market.
Back in the 60s, when the musical Supremes sang "Stop In The Name of Love," I guess they didn’t mean stopping taxes. Unfortunately, today’s Supremes don’t either.