Senator Tom Lee, current candidate for Chief Financial Officer, began talking a few years ago about the lack of long-term budgeting by the state of Florida. He felt that, given the cyclical nature of Florida’s economy, budgeting year-to-year causes significant problems when tax revenues decline during periods of economic downturns. The result, the Florida Legislature put Amendment 1 on the ballot by votes of 39-0 in the Senate and 115-2 in the House.
Proposing amendments to the State Constitution to limit the amount of nonrecurring general revenue which may be appropriated for recurring purposes in any fiscal year to 3 percent of the total general revenue funds estimated to be available, unless otherwise approved by a three-fifths vote of the Legislature; to establish a Joint Legislative Budget Commission, which shall issue long-range financial outlooks; to provide for limited adjustments in the state budget without the concurrence of the full Legislature, as provided by general law; to reduce the number of times trust funds are automatically terminated; to require the preparation and biennial revision of a long-range state planning document; and to establish a Government Efficiency Task Force and specify its duties. (Full Text PDF)
Senator Lee is correct that Florida’s budget does not factor future needs or resources. However, there are some problems inherent with this proposal.
First, the Amendment requires the preparation and biennial revision of a “long-range state planning document. This document will be prepared by the Joint Legislative Budet Commission (see below) and will include forecasts for the “future needs and resources” for the state. Essentially, this will become a multi-year budget document. This opens future legislators to attacks similar to those that occur in Congress.
The Federal government uses a multi-year budget document for long-range planning. When revisions to that document are made that reduce future projections for some programs, opponents call these revisions budget “cuts”. While a real “cut” is an actual reduction in the appropriation from one fiscal year to the next, a “D.C. cut” is a reduction in the future appropriation increase for a given subject area. So passing the amendment would bring this rhetoric from Washington DC to Tallahassee.
Second, Amendment 1 codifies into the Constitution the Joint Legislative Budget Commission, composed of legislators from both houses of the Legislature. The current version of the Commission is used to approve small changes to agency budgets; however, the new Commission will also produce the long-range planning document as noted above. While the existince of the Commission is not a problem, it should not be codified into the Florida Constitution.
Next, Amendment 1 also creates a permanent Government Efficiency Task Force, composed of public officials and private citizens, to recommend ways to improve governmental operations and reducing costs. Not only can the Legislature do this on it’s own, it already has the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability which analyzes government programs. The creation of yet another committee, let alone placing it permanently in the Florida Constitution, is wholly unnecessary.
Finally, the only benefit Amendment 1 would provide is a limitation of spending “non-recurring” revenue on “recurring” expenses. Think of this as sound financial advice, you don’t spend money that comes in one time only (as a gift, or perhaps a small lottery prize) on expenses that will continue after the money has run out. The Legislature has done this quite often, requiring these “recurring” programs to find new money when the “non-recurring” funds are not available in subsequent years. If the Amendment were limited to this provision only, it would be virtually impossible to oppose the measure.
Most Florida newspapers support passage of the Amendment. The Tampa Tribune feels the government efficiency task force is the best part of the amendment. The St. Petersburg Times thinks the amendment can help put an end to “budget games” in Tallahassee. The Palm Beach Post, while preferring to have a general law, likes the budgetary discipline the Amendment could provide. The Miami Herald believes the Amendment could easily have unintended consequences, and therefore opposes it.
Other than the newspapers, there aren’t any organized support or oppose groups. Polls have shown that because the amendment is complex, voters may be more inclined to vote against it. The intentions are certainly laudable; but the details of this Amendment cause some concern, especially placing them permanently in the Florida Constitution.
Therefore, the State of Sunshine recommends voting NO on Amendment 1.