State of Sunshine Predictions: Amendments

With Election Day approaching, I wanted to take a moment to read some tea leaves and render predictions.

Here are my projected winners for the proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution, which require a 60% margin to pass:
Amendment 1 – Fail to Pass
Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to delete provisions authorizing the Legislature to regulate or prohibit the ownership, inheritance, disposition, and possession of real property by aliens ineligible for citizenship.

Although this is a good amendment, it’s confusing. The “provisions” to be deleted were inserted back in the first half of the 20th century, to prevent illegal immigrants from Asia (mostly China) from owning property. While illegal immigration has not been a debated issue this election cycle (because Obama and McCain largely agree on what to do), the issue remains a concern for many.

So those who understand the amendment and favor a hard line on immigration will vote against it. These votes along with those who vote against it because of the lack of information will be more than 40%.

Amendment 2 – Fail to Pass
This amendment protects marriage as the legal union of only one man and one woman as husband and wife and provides that no other legal union that is treated as marriage or the substantial equivalent thereof shall be valid or recognized.

This amendment is the most controversial among those remaining, and is the only amendment to be on the ballot this year from the citizen initiative process. With a Democratic tide tending to oppose the amendment, I can not see it getting the 60% necessary to pass.

Amendment 3 – Fail to Pass
Authorizes the Legislature, by general law, to prohibit consideration of changes or improvements to residential real property which increase resistance to wind damage and installation of renewable energy source devices as factors in assessing the property’s value for ad valorem taxation purposes. Effective upon adoption, repeals the existing renewable energy source device exemption no longer in effect.

This is another confusing amendment. The Taxation and Budget Reform Commission should have made it easier by saying: hurricane proofing and solar panels can not be factored in to the value of a home when assessing it’s taxable value. If people can read through the legal-ese, especially Democrats, it could pass. But I don’t think it will get there.

Amendment 4 – Fail to Pass
Requires Legislature to provide a property tax exemption for real property encumbered by perpetual conservation easements or other perpetual conservation protections, defined by general law. Requires Legislature to provide for classification and assessment of land used for conservation purposes, and not perpetually encumbered, solely on the basis of character or use. Subjects assessment benefit to conditions, limitations, and reasonable definitions established by general law. Applies to property taxes beginning in 2010.

I am not a big fan of this amendment, because it allows for a “temporary” tax exemption. The concept is good – when a property owner places property for conservation, the owner should get some tax exemptions. But a “perpetual” easement or protection is not truly perpetual, as it can be removed in the future.

Large land owners like St. Joe Company, which ones a good chunk of the panhandle, will be able to place a lot of their land into such protection now, then slowly over time work with the local governments to remove the protection so parcels can be developed as communities grow.

If the amendment included a provision where back taxes would be owed when the protection was rescinded, I would support this wholeheartedly. But this is just a way for property owners to dodge taxes until the economy and growth are such they can develop their property.

That said, I am still not sure this is an amendment that will pass, as reading through the summary can, again, be confusing.

Amendment 6 – Fail to Pass
Provides for assessment based upon use of land used predominantly for commercial fishing purposes; land used for vessel launches into waters that are navigable and accessible to the public; marinas and drystacks that are open to the public; and water-dependent marine manufacturing facilities, commercial fishing facilities, and marine vessel construction and repair facilities and their support activities, subject to conditions, limitations, and reasonable definitions specified by general law.

Another complicated amendment that would be good if it could pass, although it should probably be broader than just working waterfronts. The issue: a small marina situated between two high-rise condos on a barrier island has a small problem – being taxed as if it were also a high-rise condo.

So, from an operational perspective the marina doesn’t receive the cash flow of a high-rise, but it pays the taxes of a high-rise. At the same time, from a value perspective, the marina will sell to a new owner at the value of a high-rise instead of a marina.

Ultimately, it’s the problem with a taxable value being “highest and best use” rather than current use – but that is for another day.

Amendment 8 – Fail to Pass
Proposing an amendment to the State Constitution to require that the Legislature authorize counties to levy a local option sales tax to supplement community college funding; requiring voter approval to levy the tax; providing that approved taxes will sunset after 5 years and may be reauthorized by the voters.

The final amendment is gonna be tough as well — it reads like a sales tax increase. To be sure, community colleges need support, especially in an economic downturn when people may need further education for a new or better job.

But it’s a sales tax increase. And that will be tough.

So, yes — I am predicting that all amendments will fail to pass this year. Something that Mason-Dixon’s latest poll seems to predict as well (according Naked Politics).

About Jim Johnson

Editor and publisher of The State of Sunshine.
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One Response to State of Sunshine Predictions: Amendments

  1. Two quick comments on Amendment 4: first, perpetual easements are, in fact, perpetual. They survive sale of property, inheritance, and everything else — as long as the state is around to administer the law, the perpetual easement remains in place.

    Secondly, there’s no reason to assume that a model like the one you propose (back taxes on violation of terms) wouldn’t take place. That’s exactly how Georgia does it. The important thing to remember, though, is that the implementation level of detail doesn’t go into the Constitution. It can’t. That level of detail has to be implemented in detailed legislation, and given the Georgia precedent, that back-tax model is a very real possibility for how this will work.

    The Amendment is a prerequisite for any of the conservation implementation, though, because right now, there isn’t even a statewide land classification for conservation land — and that’s all we’re trying to fix with Amendment 4.

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