I attended the Amendment 5 debate on August 13 at Gulf Coast Community College in Panama City. Senator Haridopolis (R-Indiatlantic) was there to represent the opposition to this constitutional amendment known as the “tax swap” amendment. He began his remarks discussing the phrase “holding education harmless”. The Florida Legislature will have to find $11 billion in revenue to offset the reduction in property taxes. He explained his position using a series of blocks symbolizing the amount of revenue needed.
The “tax swap” amendment was approved by the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission this past spring. I had the opportunity to attend some of the TBRC meetings regarding TABOR, the “Taxpayer Bill of Rights” amendment, also known as the the Taxpayer Protection Amendment. Sen. Haridopolis endorsed TABOR today as he has in the past and drew parallels between TABOR and the proposed amendment.
In the case of Amendment 5, the Senator explained that money would have to be taken from other programs, as it is really a tax increase. He said the “numbers don’t add up” and that the legislature “wants to play Santa Claus”. To hold education harmless we might be looking possibly at a $.03 sales tax increase or taxes to be increased in services, which could include real estate commissions. Considering that the Florida Association of Realtors is supporting the measure, I would say that would be an unintended consequence of this new amendment, which the Legislature would be bound to follow. The coalition against Amendment 5 includes the education community, the business community, Americans for Tax Reform, Florida TaxWatch and the AARP for example. He recommended visiting the webpage for the group Protect Florida’s Future.
I asked the Senator what the status of the Amendment was considering there was a hearing being held today to determine whether it would even be on the ballot. He said that although there were questions about 5 that he felt that it was important to have these debates because the Presidential race would likely overshadow this debate but Amendment 5 “could have the biggest impact on our future” of any amendments on the ballot this November. He said the measure is “good intentioned but not the right recipe for success. The voters want their leaders to just tell it to them straight and tell them how much it will cost.” In Amendment 5 it is not clear at all. The Miami Herald called it a “math problem“.
The main proponent of Amendment 5 is Give Me 5 Florida and the measure is supported by Governor Charlie Crist but there was not anyone defending the amendment. Former Senate President McKay was not able to attend, but there was a rather heated debate regarding what actually was discussed at the TBRC hearings by an attendee that was there, B. Kabe Woods. There are many questions to be answered still about what Amendment 5 would actually mean for the State of Florida, so the debate has just begun.