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Florida Senate Backs Making It Harder To Raise Taxes

Mark Buckawicki
Wikimedia Commons

A proposal that will ask voters to make it tougher for future state lawmakers to raise taxes narrowly cleared the Senate on Monday, with three Democrats joining Republicans in putting the measure on the November ballot.

The Senate voted 25-13 to approve the proposed constitutional amendment (HJR 7001), which has been a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Gov. Rick Scott.

If approved in November, the measure would require two-thirds votes in the House and Senate to raise taxes or fees in the future, up from the usual majority votes.

Because the measure was a proposed constitutional amendment, it required support from 24 members of the Senate, which is comprised of 23 Republican and 15 Democrats and has two vacant seats.

Democrats Lauren Book of Plantation, Bobby Powell of West Palm Beach and Linda Stewart of Orlando voted in favor of the bill, while Thonotosassa Republican Tom Lee crossed party lines to vote against it.

Lee questioned how the language was adopted on the bill, as the Senate initially sought to require three-fifths votes -- an easier standard than two-thirds -- to approve tax increases. The Senate also initially did not propose applying the higher standards to fee increases.

Book and Powell said later the question should be left up to voters.

“At the end of the day, it’s not necessary us as a Legislature … make this decision,” Powell said. “At the end of the day, the decision will be made by the voters in November.”

The measure will join what is expected to be a lengthy list of proposed constitutional amendments on the November ballot. Others include a proposal that would asking voters to automatically restore voting rights for most felons, a proposal that would make it harder to expand gambling; and a proposal to give homeowners a larger property-tax break.

More ballot measures will come from the state’s Constitution Revision Commission as it continues to craft proposals.

Scott, who is expected to be on the November ballot as a candidate for U.S. Senate, praised lawmakers for approving the supermajority measure. The Housed passed it in January.

“I look forward to this important amendment being on the ballot to protect families from unfair tax increases,” Scott said in a prepared statement.

Democrats expressed concerns that the proposal would further shift tax burdens to local governments, leave the state unable to keep up with environmental and educational needs and reduce services for families in need.

Sen. Jose Javier Rodríguez, D-Miami, argued the proposal will “tie the hands” of lawmakers when they eventually address sea-level rise and climate change, which will only grow in cost.

“This is designed to make it harder for us to deal with those problems,” Rodriguez said.

Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, said the proposal will require lawmakers to “work harder” to get the needed two-thirds support to approve tax increases.

“When families across Florida have to find a way to pay for medical bills, braces, a new car, or a broken appliance, they have to sacrifice either by cutting expenses or increasing revenues by working extra hours, or taking on a second job,” Stargel said. “State government should be just as diligent with determining when to make cuts and when to increase revenues. This important legislation gives voters a chance to make it harder for the Legislature to raise state taxes and fees.”

The proposed has the backing of groups such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce, Associated Industries of Florida, Florida TaxWatch and the National Federation of Independent Business/Florida.

A supermajority requirement isn’t new to the Legislature.

For example, a three-fifths margin is already required to raise the corporate income tax rate above 5 percent. The tax currently sits at 5.5 percent. Also, bills that cause state revenue collections to exceed a limit set in the state Constitution must be passed by two-thirds votes of each chamber.

Photo used under Creative Commons license.