January 1, 2002
Leon County Circuit Judge Kevin Davey has issued a temporary injunction against a law enacted by the Legislature this year that required the placement on the ballot of fiscal-impact statements for proposed constitutional amendments.
The Legislature enacted the law at the urging of Gov. Jeb Bush in response to the passage of the high-speed rail initiative by voters in November 2000. That constitutional amendment, which mandates construction to begin in late 2003, will cost taxpayers an minimum of $1.2 billion to construct and $38.2 million each year to operate.
The fiscal-impact statement law was intended to make available to voters complete information about constitutional mandates, benefits as well as costs, so that they can make rational decisions. The law would require state economists to prepare an account of costs of up to 75 words that would be placed on the ballot alongside the proposed amendment language.
The law was also motivated by another high-priced initiative seeking a place on the 2002 ballot. That proposed amendment, which would require smaller classes in public schools, would cost approximately $2.5 billion a year for eight years.
Judge Davey ruled that the law would probably not meet constitutional muster because it changed the process for approving amendments. The temporary injunction will keep the law from being enforced until the issue be resolved by the Florida Supreme Court.
The atmosphere in the court after Davey’s ruling approached the surreal as opponents of the law called the decision a victory for citizens. “This is definitely a great step in democracy to see that the people’s voice will not be usurped and rules will not be changed in midstream,” said Sharon Pacheco with People for the American Way, a left-wing advocacy group that apparently believes that fully informed voters have no place in democracy.
AIF fully supports the fiscal-impact statement legislation. Voters can only make competent decisions when they have all of the facts at hand. Those decisions can only be made with knowledge of the costs of constitutional mandates and their effects on other demands and obligations that weigh on taxpayer dollars.