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Opinion
Sarasota Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020 6 days ago

Florida ballot measure results are a mixed bag

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Florida passed three of the six amendments on the general election ballot.
by: Vittorio Nastasti and Adrian Moore

The votes are in, and Floridians have given their verdict on the six statewide ballot initiatives up for vote this year. Notably, voters rejected limitations on future ballot initiatives and the establishment of a top-two open primary system but narrowly passed a major hike in the state’s minimum wage. Voters also approved two initiatives that altered the state’s homestead tax. What do the results of each mean for Sarasotans?

 

Amendment 1: Citizen Requirement for Voting (Passed: 79.3%)

Amendment 1 passed by an overwhelming 79.3%. The amendment will change the state constitution to say that “only citizens” of the U.S., rather than “every citizen” of the U.S., are allowed to vote in state elections. 

Proponents argued that the existing language was clear as to who is allowed to vote but does not adequately specify who is not allowed to vote. However, citizenship is, in fact, already required to vote in state elections. The amendment will merely change the wording, but not the meaning, of the state constitution and will have no meaningful impact.

 

Amendment 2: $15 Minimum Wage (Passed: 60.8%)

Voters narrowly approved Amendment 2 with 60.8% of votes in favor — just 0.8% past the 60 percent threshold required to pass ballot initiatives in Florida. Amendment 2 will gradually increase the state minimum wage to $15 by 2026. 

Amendment 2 will nearly double Florida’s current minimum wage of $8.56 an hour. A hike of that scale will likely have devastating consequences for workers in the state, particularly in the tourism and hospitality industries at the heart of Florida’s economy. The impact on those industries could be particularly severe amid high levels of unemployment resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The path for young, entry-level unskilled workers to enter the workforce will be dramatically restricted, while unskilled but experienced workers in their 20s will get higher pay to fill entry-level jobs. Florida will likely see an exodus of new young workers who have to leave the state to find jobs and an influx of unskilled but experienced and slightly older workers in their place. 

Larger increases in hourly minimum wages are more consistently found in studies to have negative impacts on workers and consumers. There is also evidence that minimum wage increases have larger negative employment effects during recessions than during periods of growth when businesses might be better able to absorb additional costs. 

At the same time, an analysis from the Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research found that a $15 minimum wage will have a significant negative impact on state and local government budgets. There will be approximately $16 million in increased wage costs for government agencies in the first year of implementation. By 2027, the government’s costs for paying higher wages are projected to reach $540 million. There might also be positive fiscal impacts through increased sales tax revenue and decreased participation in public assistance programs. However, these positive impacts could be offset by reduced consumption and job losses.

 

Amendment 3: Top-Two Open Primary for State Offices (Failed: 57.0%)

Florida voters rejected Amendment 3, which proposed replacing partisan primaries with a top-two open primary system. Under the proposed system, candidates from each party would appear on the same ballot, and the top two candidates receiving the most votes would advance to the general election, regardless of party affiliation. Any registered voter would be allowed to participate in the primary election, not just party members. Only two other states — Washington and California — have implemented this form of primary system. 

Although increasing participation and encouraging moderation are laudable goals, Floridians were wise to reject this particular proposal. Political parties are fundamentally private organizations with the right to set their own rules for nominating candidates. To infringe on that right is to violate the freedom of association.

Going forward, ranked-choice voting provides a much better solution than top-two open primaries. Under ranked-choice voting, voters rank candidates by preference rather than casting a single vote. If no candidate wins a majority of first choice votes, the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated. That candidate’s votes are then redistributed based on voters ranked preferences. This process is repeated until one candidate receives a majority.

Ranked-choice voting allows voters to choose their most-preferred candidate first without worrying about wasted votes or spoiler effects. This would lend voters more choice and provide greater opportunity for minor-party candidates. If Floridians want to allow for greater participation by nonpartisan voters and encourage moderation, they should consider implementing ranked-choice voting. Moreover, that would be a great way to make local elections for city and county commissions fairer and more participatory, keeping parties but subordinating them to voter preferences. Food for thought, Sarasota.

 

Amendment 4: Require Constitutional Amendments to Be Passed Twice (Failed: 52.5%)

Floridians also rejected a proposal to require that ballot initiatives be passed in two successive elections before being enacted. Amendment 4 received a total of 52.5% of votes, falling short of the 60% threshold. Ironically, the proposal's failure demonstrates the high bar already required to pass ballot initiatives in Florida. Colorado is the only other state that requires a supermajority for citizen initiatives.

The outcome is a win for Florida voters. Limitations on direct democracy empower the legislature, executive and special interests at the detriment of citizens. Although initiatives might sometimes be frivolous, others have delivered meaningful reforms for Florida, such as legalizing medical marijuana and restoring voting rights to felons. However cynical you might be about voters dealing with complex issues, watching the special interest and power-driven politics in the legislature soon makes you realize citizens can’t do worse. 

Concerns about overcrowding the state constitution with frivolous provisions are not without merit, but there are better alternatives to “keep our constitution clean.” For example, statute initiatives would provide citizens with a channel for self-governance without placing minor policy changes in the state constitution. Twenty-one other states in the nation allow for such initiatives.

 

Amendment 5: Extend “Save Our Homes” Portability Period (Passed: 74.5%)

Voters approved Amendment 5, which made a minor technical change to Florida’s homestead property tax exemption, also referred to as the “Save Our Homes” provision. The provision exempts $25,000 of the value of a primary residence from property taxes. So if a primary residence in Florida has an assessed value of $225,000, the owner would pay property taxes on just $200,000. Although homestead property tax exemptions are not a simple or fair way to reduce property tax burdens, Amendment 5 fixed a technical error with the intended timing in the portability of the benefit, and its impact is minor and consistent with existing tax policy.

 

Amendment 6: Homestead Property Tax Discount for Spouses of Deceased Veterans (Passed: 89.7%)

Amendment 6 received the largest share of favorable votes among the six initiatives on the ballot in Florida. Current Florida law discounts the property taxes of combat-disabled veterans proportionate to their degree of disability. Prior to Amendment 5, that property tax discount ended for that when the veteran died. The amendment will transfer the discount to the veteran’s surviving spouse upon the death of the veteran and allow the spouse to transfer the dollar amount of the tax discount to a new home. If the spouse remarries, the benefit will end.

Broad-based tax cuts, rather than picking favored parties, are the most effective and fair form of tax cuts. However, the intent of the veterans’ property tax discount is clearly to provide an ongoing benefit to combat veterans who suffer as a result of their military service. Extending the benefit to the veteran’s spouse upon their death might help some families avoid making homeownership decisions based on an increase in anticipated costs after the veteran’s death and could help avoid making the impact of their passing even harder on their spouses.

 

Vittorio Nastasti, policy analyst, and Adrian Moore, vice president, at Reason Foundation

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