March 5, 2004
We have learned that next week, Senator Jeff Atwater (R-North Palm Beach) will present a bill to the Ethics and Elections committee advancing The Governor’s “No Hidden Taxes in Florida’s Constitution” initiative reform proposal.
Governor Bush proposes that any amendment which would impose a significant cost on government would be required to create a new tax or fee as a source of funding to implement it. A significant cost is considered to be in excess of $1 million.
A supermajority is already required to approve taxes and fees raised outside the legislative process. Because the Governor's proposal would mandate a new tax or fee, an amendment would need to be approved by 2/3 of those voting in an election.
The principle that a supermajority should approve taxes and fees raised outside of the legislative process would be extended to new spending proposals as well. Because the Governor’s proposal would mandate a new tax or fee, the amendment would need to be approved by two-thirds of those voting in an election.
The Revenue Estimating Conference would assess whether the proposed amendment has a significant cost and whether the proposed revenues would cover that cost. This body is already charged with estimating revenues and is in a position to perform this function for citizen initiatives.
While fiscal impact statements are helpful, the Governor believes that creating a revenue source protects the citizenry from unfunded and unpredictable future costs and also protects the legislature’s ability to allocate revenues generated by statute. If an amendment created a new tax or fee that only generated a portion of the revenues needed for its implementation, the legislature would only be required to implement it to the extent that the new tax or fee paid for it. Any surplus revenues generated would become general revenue.
The Governor’s proposal to mandate revenue sources for costly amendments comes in response to the recent constitutional amendment reform debate and the recent increase of constitutional amendments that become unfunded mandates for Florida’s government. Spending by initiative is a major reason why the State of California remains in fiscal crisis. Future amendments in Florida could limit the legislature’s ability to debate and decide which priorities most merit state funding.
The Governor’s proposal joins a list of reforms being considered by the House and three joint resolutions put forth by the Senate.
The Senate Ethics and Elections committee is expected to convene Thursday, March 11 at 9:00 a.m. to consider this proposed joint resolution.