Saturday, September 06, 2008

Supreme Courts strikes out amendments from ballots

Governor Crist had high hopes that Justices would finally line up with the proponents of the amendments to be included in November ballot.

They unanimously (7-0) decided that the titles and summaries on the proposed ballot were misleading to the voters.

We will have to wait for the Florida legislators to address the issue again. They have two years before new constitutional amendments can be voted.
I personally believe that the issues were too important to be dealt with the sort of casualness it drew from our elected officials, who were perhaps too busy to spend the necessary time and attention.

The Legislature did not come out with a reasonable solution to high property tax woes, notorious for afflicting residents and out of state property owners.

The proposal by the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission was evidently a partisan approach, in its attempt to sneak in the constitutional amendments, school vouchers plans which would have forced taxpayers to subsidize religious schools. Justices' opinion was that these considerations was completely out of the scope of this commission which meets every twenty years.

School boards were evidently relieved. Teachers, bus drivers had fought the proposal since its inception. Funding for schools would be been guaranteed for only one year, leaving at the whim of the legislature's disposal to thereafter replace the traditional funding of schools through property taxes revenues.

We will not see an increase of our sales taxes by 1%, nor will services presently exempt, be taxed to replace the lost revenues of property tax reduction.

The Realtors Association was disappointed, since a tax reduction of about 25% for residents and non-resident property owners as well, would have been a shot in the arm for the real estate industry.

And what do I personally think? The truth is that real estate is my business and I would appreciate anything that could alleviate the downturn, attract buyers, and slow down foreclosures and short sales.

However, as a concerned citizen, I believe that swapping taxes is no solution.

Our schools system which is dead last in the US, should be respected and its funding cannot be left to the whim of an obscure Taxation and Budget Reform Commission that meets every 20 years. It is ridiculous that what our legislature could not accomplish in many long sessions, should be addressed in this manner.

I did not appreciate that the constitutional separation between state and religion could be compromised by these amendments, and that the voters would have been misled by a sneaky ballot summary that did not adequately inform about the long-term consequences of these amendments if they were approved.

I wrote it many times. Tax Swaps are a game that only postpones the reality check.

The problem must be solved by a balance between what property owners want to pay versus the services they want to be provided. This should leave out the happy spending, the unnecessary bureaucracy, and the excesses that we have seen in cities and counties budgets.

Efficiency, thrift and good management are the words I want to hear.
Threats of service cuts, and "tax swaps" are not the answer.

On the other hand, I don't believe that punishing those who do not own their residence, by increasing their sales taxes, and adding new taxes, is the best way to solve the problems of those who are lucky enough to own their home.

Here is the text published in the Sun Sentinel February 4th, 2008:

Property tax bills won't drop any time soon, but sales taxes won't go up, either.
And school funding will stay the same.

The state Supreme Court on Wednesday removed a multibillion tax swap plan from the November ballot, leaving supporters empty-handed for at least two more years in their quest for lower real estate taxes. Critics of the plan to eliminate most school property taxes said the ruling averts a potential disaster for public education.

The court issued the 7-0 ruling four hours after justices forcefully argued during a courtroom hearing that the ballot summary for Amendment 5 would have misled voters about its potential implications for school funding. The ruling is final.

The justices also knocked off the Nov. 4 ballot a pair of voucher amendments, in the latest twist in Florida's long-running legislative and legal battle over whether taxpayers' money can be used to send children to private religious schools.

In the tax case, justices said Wednesday that the amendment's 90-word ballot title and summary failed to give voters fair warning that the replacement revenue promised for schools was guaranteed only for the first year, 2010-11. After that, it would have been up to the Legislature.

The Amendment 5 plan would have handed a 25 percent tax cut to Florida property owners. But it could have jeopardized school funding, critics said, and led to a boost in the 6-cent sales tax and a state charge on services such as dry cleaning.

Gov. Charlie Crist, who backed the plan, said through a spokeswoman he was "disappointed the people will not have the opportunity to vote to lower their taxes."

"It really postpones significant, meaningful property tax reform for a long time, sadly," said John Mike, president of the Realtors Association of the Palm Beaches. Realtors now look to the 2010 election as the next chance to put a major tax initiative before voters.

Praise for the ruling came swiftly from the amendment's broad base of critics, from business interests worried about a services tax to teachers to some prominent Republican legislators. "Deep in my heart I knew that these were not good amendments for children, and that ultimately the American legal system would prevail," said Broward Schools Superintendent James Notter.

The Palm Beach County School Board chairman, Bill Graham, said the ruling is "almost Christmas and Hanukkah in September."

In the voucher case, the justices ruled unanimously to remove from the ballot two plans, Amendments 7 and 9, that would have set the constitutional groundwork for children to attend private religious schools at taxpayers' expense. At issue was whether vouchers would go beyond the scope of the appointed Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, which meets every 20 years to propose changes to the state's tax laws.Former Gov. Jeb Bush, a staunch supporter of vouchers, weighed in with a rare statement, saying the ruling was "extremely disappointing." Bush said the ruling places current voucher programs that subsidize more than 20,000 students in private schools in legal limbo.

Henry B. Nathan is a Florida Realtor at United Realty Group Inc.Visit my website: you can search for Aventura Condos, Florida Condos,
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