It’s too easy to amend the Florida Constitution. As a result, we see stupid stuff plugged into the hallowed document that’s outright crazy. Remember the “pregnant pigs” amendment that became effective in 2008, making it a crime to confine a pig during pregnancy?
Well, the abusers of the constitution are back at it, and you will see their handiwork on the ballot in November.
One measure is Amendment One, which would set a minimum level of state spending each year for land and water conservation. If approved, it would earmark 33 percent of the net revenue from documentary-stamp taxes, primarily imposed on real-estate transactions, for conservation spending over the next 20 years.
While the amendment sounds harmless and provides some feel-good spending to protect water resources, its primary problem is that this does not belong in the state constitution. Most of Florida’s business leaders and business groups oppose Amendment One, for the following reasons:
- It’s bad public policy to insert a function of the state’s budget into the constitution. As one state business leader said, “It’s an issue that should be decided by the Legislature, which is responsible for passing and balancing our state budget. Should not be written in concrete in our constitution.”
- It would have a negative impact on the state budget and economy. Land placed in conservation makes little contribution to the economy or private job creation, weakening Florida’s economy. The amendment would shrink the state tax base because land would go from a producer of revenue to a user of revenue. When tax money is used to acquire land, reasonable minds know what happens: Government grows, ongoing maintenance expenses increase, and more government employees must be hired to oversee the land.
- The fiscal jolt of buying additional conservation land will have a bad impact on local needs because, when property is moved from private hands to government ownership, it disappears from the tax rolls. Less taxable property means less revenue for local governments. That means less for roads, public safety and education. Local governments will need to increase property taxes or cut services.
- Twenty-seven percent of Florida land is already under government control, in conservation. That rises to nearly 33 percent when you add properties used for government offices and facilities. In Palm Beach County, nearly half the land is already owned by local, state or federal governments.
- Florida’s constitution places the responsibility for setting annual balanced budgets in the hands of the Florida Legislature and governor. The needs of all Floridians are addressed by elected representatives in a debated approval process, where critical needs are considered and balanced.
Amendment One introduces dangerous, insidious problems. The nation’s Founding Fathers encouraged private ownership of land, and the U.S. Constitution safeguards against potential government tyranny by providing rights to private citizens to own and use property. But Amendment One reverses that wisdom. In fact, the amendment has been pushed by conservation organizations that believe land should not be controlled by individuals, and they claim it contributes to social injustice because it is an instrument of concentration of wealth. The ultimate purpose of such socialist thinking is to put land use under public control. The amendment would push Florida toward state-controlled socialism.
Amendment One is not needed. It harms Florida’s constitution. It will decrease Florida’s tax base and reduce tax revenue. It intrudes on the Legislature’s responsibility to serve the interests of the entire state, not just the narrow special interests of conservation groups. Let’s not lock ourselves into 20 years of mandated spending that would increase government ownership of land at the expense of other pressing needs.
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