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Amendment 3: Cap aims to end budget boom, bust

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 06:35 PM

EDITOR'S NOTE: The following article is being reprinted from the Tribune to help Hernando Today readers to better understand amendments facing Florida voters on Nov. 6. Stories on other amendments will be printed in the coming days.

It's just the nature of state budget writers, say backers of a spending cap in the Florida Constitution.

In flush fiscal years, lawmakers find more uses for your money.

Think of 2005-06, or the following year, when the housing boom and spending on hurricane reconstruction pushed the state budget up by $7 billion to $8 billion a year.

That led outgoing state Senate President Mike Haridopolos, a Republican from Melbourne, to champion Amendment 3, a "State Government Revenue Limitation" appearing on the Nov. 6 ballot. It's described as restricting the state's revenue collections, effectively checking spending, based on changes in population and inflation.

That's not the description opponents of the measure are using.

A "disaster," said Darden Rice, head of the St. Petersburg League of Women Voters.

"Scary," said April Griffin, a member of the Hillsborough County School Board.

A "tested and failed policy … that has devastated local economies," said Tim Heberlein, political director of the Florida Consumer Action Network.

The opposition, gathered under the "NoOn3.org" banner, points to a high-profile spending cap experiment in Colorado that is generally seen as a colossal failure.

Colorado was the first state to enact a "Taxpayer's bill of rights," which has come to be known as "TABOR," in 1992. When the state's economy faltered in the 2000s, lawmakers couldn't get out from under the cap and were forced to slash spending on education, public health, and other programs.

Analysts said the TABOR caps exacerbated the state's economic woes.

Voters eventually backpedaled, suspending the TABOR caps in Colorado.

"If history teaches us anything from Colorado, it's that this is going to be very damaging to our education system, which is already in dire financial need," Heberlein said.

"With a name like 'Taxpayers' Bill of Rights,' this sounds terrific," he said, "but it really does have a series of unintended, dangerous consequences that will hurt Floridians all around the state."

The problem, opponents say, is that things that states pay for — schools, prisons, roads, infrastructure, other high-ticket items — don't necessarily match the soft inflation track of personal income and population growth.

A study of Amendment 3 by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C., concluded that the state would lose more than $11 billion in revenue over 10 years if the measure took effect immediately. Half of that would support public schools and universities, the study said.

"It is not in the best interest of our children or the people of Florida," said Megan Allan, a fifth-grade teacher at Shaw Elementary and Florida's 2010 Teacher of the Year. "Amendment 3 will not cut wasteful spending. It will cut vital funding for infrastructure, health care, public transit and, most dear to my heart, the education of students in Florida."

A constitutional amendment capping state spending increases may seem like an anomaly in the era of flat Florida budgets. Lawmakers passed budgets of $70 billion, $69 billion, and $70 billion in the past three fiscal years.

But state appropriations grew from $57 billion to $74 billion between fiscal years 2004 and 2006. Revenue collections — your tax dollars — should have been scaled back, and any excess from the population and inflation formula placed into the state's rainy day fund, backers of the amendment say.

"We need to have more predictability in our state budgeting process," said Haridopolos. "Too often in the good times, state governments tend to overspend. Then in the bad times, they are forced to make radical cuts."

Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, a Fort Lauderdale Republican who sponsored the resolution, recently told state editorial boards that there are "important differences" between the Florida and Colorado measures. Proponents have studied the Colorado effort and built in provisions to prevent restrictive cutbacks.

"Growth in our economy will be allowed to continue," she said in a letter to the newspapers.

Haridopolos said he's not impressed by the doomsday scenarios touted by opponents, calling them "left wing groups that believe in big government solutions."

The onetime U.S. Senate candidate said he was influenced by his 12-year tenure in the Legislature, where "most of the visits to my office, someone would say, 'I hear you've got a lot of money here, I have some ideas on how to spend it.'"

"Let's not overspend when times are good," Haridopolos said. "I think it's a better way so you can be there when times aren't good. That's what smart families and what smart businesses do."

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