The Republican-led Legislature isn’t a big fan of raising taxes, and in fact the only time legislators have done it in recent years was in reaction to the Great Recession nearly a decade ago.
Nevertheless, critics, including the League of Women Voters of Florida, say that passage of proposed Florida Constitutional Amendment 5 on this November’s ballot would be bad for Floridians because it would make it harder for legislators to ever raise taxes or get rid of special tax exemptions. They especially worry about the effect it could have on funding public education.
Right now, a simple majority is required in the Florida House and Senate to raise taxes. Amendment 5 would require a two-thirds “supermajority” to do so.
“What voters will really be doing is empowering a super minority of bought-and-paid-for politicians” to be able to block any attempts at funding critical services in the future, League of Women Voters of Florida President Patricia Brigham said on a conference call with reporters on Tuesday.
Brigham and others who participated in the call gave examples of the danger Amendment 5 could pose for public school funding if voters approve the measure. Nationally, 15 states require their legislatures to have a supermajority to pass taxes, and some are more onerous than others.
Oklahoma passed the tightest restriction in 1992, requiring a three-fourths majority to pass any taxes. As a result, Oklahoma’s per-pupil spending has declined more than 28 percent since before the recession there, according to the nonpartisan Center on Budget and Policy Priorities,
David Blatt, executive director with the Oklahoma Policy Institute, says his state’s tax measure has “allowed a minority of legislators to hold the Legislature hostage,” and says the same could happen in Florida if citizens approve Amendment 5.
The last time the Florida Legislature raised taxes was in 2009, when lawmakers imposed a $1-per-pack tax increase on cigarettes and sharply raised fees to get a driver’s license or car tags.
Hillsborough County School Board member Cindy Stuart says the state Legislature cut education funding when economic times were tough, and that local districts like hers assumed that funding would be restored after the economy recovered. But that hasn’t been the case.
Because of that decrease in funding, Hillsborough is one of eight counties in the state that has placed a referendum on the November ballot calling for a local tax increase to fund school operations or capital expenses. Another nine counties had similar proposed local tax increases on the ballot during the August primary.
The Florida Legislature itself proposed Amendment 5 on the ballot. Support for the measure is mostly along party lines, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed. However, there were some Democrats who supported the measure in the Legislature last year, including incoming House Minority Leader Kionne McGhee, who said, “Politicians should not have the authority to raise taxes when they feel like it. There should be a higher threshold.”
The measure requires 60 percent passage at the polls on Nov. 6.