Senate okays ballot price tags
By ANITA KUMAR, Times Staff Writer
TALLAHASSEE -- While an argument continues to rage over how much it would cost to reduce class sizes in Florida, the Legislature is a step away from passing a bill putting a price tag on that proposal and others that might appear on the November ballot.
Senators debated the bill for more than three hours Wednesday, though the discussion quickly evolved into how the contentious class size amendment could cost billions of dollars.
No detailed study has been done to determine the cost of the proposal, but various estimates put the number anywhere from $2-billion to $12-billion.
Sen. Kendrick Meek, D-Miami, who is leading the campaign to put the class size amendment on the ballot, distanced himself from an estimate that a lobbyist for the effort mentioned during a Senate committee meeting on Tuesday but said an accurate number eventually will be available to voters.
Still, he opposes a bill that puts a price tag on all citizen-led constitutional amendments in November, including a universal prekindergarten program and a ban on smoking in restaurants and other workplaces.
"This is fundamentally wrong," he said, "and everyone in this room knows it."
Gov. Jeb Bush, who has expressed serious reservations about the class size amendment, asked lawmakers to take up the bill during the special session that ends Monday. Democrats accuse Bush of adding it to the agenda in an effort to kill the amendment.
"Let's be honest. You don't like this amendment, and you don't want it to pass," said Sen. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston. "You either trust the voters or you don't."
The Senate passed the bill 26-12. The House already has passed one version but is likely to discuss the bill again Monday.
If the bill passes, the state Revenue Estimating Conference, which calculates how much tax revenue the state will generate, will come up with the cost for implementing all citizen-led amendments.
"You owe it to them to tell them how much it costs," said Sen. Alex Villalobos, R-Miami.
Mark Herron, a lobbyist for the class size amendment campaign, told a Senate committee Tuesday that the measure would cost $8-billion to $12-billion. Meek said Wednesday that estimate came from a year-old analysis that the campaign hasn't embraced. The Legislature has placed a measure similar to Bush's proposal on the Nov. 5 ballot, but it applies only to future initiatives.
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