Editorial Board recommendation 2022: Constitution amendments| Our View
When Florida’s first state constitution was written, it didn’t mention anything about seat belt requirements for cars. Nor did it contain a single word about banning smoking on airplanes. And there certainly wasn’t any language in there regulating internet advertising.
That’s not shocking, because cars, planes, and the internet didn’t exist in 1838. Instead, the constitution laid out a broad set of principles the state’s leaders could use as a foundation for building a government.
The constitution was never intended to be the be-all, end-all in regulating life in the Sunshine State. We have laws to fulfill that purpose — which is a sensible approach since laws can be updated with changing times and circumstances.
It’s important to keep all that in mind while considering three proposed constitutional amendments the Florida Legislature added to the November ballot.
This amendment would “prohibit the consideration of any change or improvement made to real property used for residential purposes to improve the property’s resistance to flood damage in determining the assessed value of such property for ad valorem taxation purposes.”
It’s a well-intentioned idea. Legislators want to provide some financial incentive to encourage homeowners to better protect their properties against flood damage, which could hold down insurance rates.
If approved by voters, assessed property values wouldn’t rise for changes such as “elevating structures, filling basements, and waterproofing,” as well as improvements “to allow for stormwater runoff, waterproofing basements, installing check valves capable of preventing water backup, and elevating furnaces, heaters, and electrical panels.”
One of the problems here is the amendment attempts to legislate homeowners’ intent to some degree. It presupposes all of those types of home upgrades would be made solely for the purpose of hardening structures against flood damage, when homeowners might undertake them for a variety of reasons.
Also, determining how much flood-related improvements would impact home values is highly subjective.
For example, a homeowner might undertake a top-to-bottom renovation that includes some of the work contemplated by the amendment. After the renovation project is complete, it would be reasonable to expect the assessed property value to be higher.
But figuring out how much the flood-related improvements contributed to the overall increase in value would be tough to do.
In any event, if legislators want to pursue this path, it seems simpler for them to address the issue in state statutes, which are easier to amend if there are unintended consequences. For example, by passing the My Safe Florida Home program, the Legislature gave homeowners financial incentives to harden their homes.
This amendment would abolish the Constitution Revision Commission, a group empaneled by Florida once every 20 years to review the constitution for possible changes.
Having this commission periodically review the entire charter is healthy and a more comprehensive way to make changes rather than having them submitted as ad hoc amendments like this one.
This proposed amendment, which also seems well intentioned, would provide extra homestead exemptions up to $50,000 of the assessed value for property owned by “classroom teachers, law enforcement officers, correctional officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, child welfare services professionals, active duty members of the United States Armed Forces, and Florida National Guard members.”
It’s easy for state government officials to suggest this change because it doesn’t affect the amount of revenue they collect. However, increasing homestead exemptions means cities and counties potentially would collect less revenues through property taxes.
Cities and counties would seek to make up the difference for the lost revenues by raising property tax rates for everyone or cutting services.
No reasonable person could argue the job classifications targeted by the proposed amendment aren’t beneficial to society. But what about doctors? Suicide hotline counselors? Farmers? Maybe even garbage collectors?
The point is, trying to single out people in certain professions for special taxing considerations is a slippery slope.
Also, what happens when someone quits a job in one of those professions? Who is going to make sure they won’t keep getting a tax break they’re no longer eligible to receive?
If state legislators want to help teachers, police, and other first responders, a better way would be to simply pay them more.
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