tampabay.com

Voters say yes to all six amendments

One of them requires that new amendments pass by 60 percent.

By JONI JAMES
Published November 8, 2006


Florida voters liked saying yes Tuesday, even if it meant it would be harder for them to do so in the future.

All six amendments proposed for the Florida Constitution looked poised for easy passage late Tuesday, including Amendment 3, which requires that future constitutional amendments be approved by 60 percent of voters.

Also passed were measures granting new property tax breaks to disabled veterans 65 and older and allowing counties to do the same for low-income seniors.

Voters also strengthened restrictions against governments' ability to seize private property for redevelopment. And they put limits on the Legislature concerning developing state budgets and fiscal planning, even as they mandated that the state spend roughly $57-million next year (and more as inflation grows) for antitobacco education.

Amendment 3, pushed by the state's business community and put on the ballot by the state Legislature, had the highest profile of the six statewide measures that voters considered this election.

Florida businesses - from Publix to Chico's - pumped a combined $3-million into the effort, called Protect the Constitution, arguing that it has become too easy for special interests to amend Florida's Constitution through the citizen initiative process.

Meanwhile, opponents, including a bipartisan coalition of state leaders and a wealthy network of out-of-state, pro-citizen initiative groups, argued that it would only give more power to the Legislature and the special interest lobbyists that influence it. That group, Trust the Voters, raised $2-million. The pitch, however, didn't appear to stick.

"Voters know that pigs and trains don't belong in our Constitution," Florida Chamber of Commerce vice president Mark Wilson said, referencing two previous, successful citizen initiatives that banned factory pig farming from Florida and mandated a high-speed train. The train was stripped from the Constitution with a subsequent initiative in 2004.

"Nine out of 10 measures that get on the ballot pass," Wilson said. "This will provide some level of a filter."

But not much of one, if Tuesday's results are any guide. Of the six measures, early returns showed nearly all of them likely to pass with 60 percent or more of the vote. And the most popular measures, Amendments 6 and 7, which provide new property tax breaks for low-income elderly people and disabled veterans 65 and older, were doing even better.

The only citizen initiative on the ballot, Amendment 4, also appeared assured of passage. Pushed by the American Lung Association and other groups, the measure requires the state to reinstate an aggressive antitobacco program aimed at keeping teenagers from trying tobacco.

CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENTS

All six measures on Tuesday's ballot passed:

- Amendment 1: Mandates the Florida Legislature develop long-range fiscal plans; limits how much legislators can use one-time funds for operating expenses, such as hiring prison guards.

- Amendment 3: Requires 60 percent of voters to approve all future constitutional amendments.

- Amendment 4: Earmarks $57-million for anti-tobacco education annually, indexed to inflation.

- Amendment 6: Allows local governments to double a property tax exemption for low-income seniors from a maximum of $25,000 to $50,000.

- Amendment 7: Provides a discount on property taxes for permanently disabled veterans age 65 or older.

- Amendment 8: Puts into the state Constitution current law that restricts governments' ability to seize private land for commercial redevelopment.