Skip to main content
Sarasota Thursday, Jul. 29, 2010 7 years ago

MY VIEW: Amendment 4 will stymie our economy

by: Jon Thaxton

A proposed amendment to Florida’s Constitution, Amendment 4, would require that all changes to comprehensive plans approved by local governments must also be approved by voters.

Amendment 4’s unintended consequences pose a serious threat to Florida’s ability to secure high-paying jobs and achieve sustainable economic growth and will add layers of unnecessary, costly and litigious bureaucracy to the planning process.

Although not all businesses relocating to Florida will need a comprehensive-plan amendment, the perception alone of the state’s business climate plays a crucial role when smart, green and high-tech industries consider their relocation options. Amendment 4 all but throws a not-welcome doormat at the state line.

Florida already leads the nation in unemployment and related home foreclosures. By requiring the only state in the nation to determine land use by voter referendum, Amendment 4 will stymie Florida’s economic recovery and plunge the state into a deeper and prolonged economic decline.

Floridians have good reason to be concerned with planning decisions of the past. Serious mistakes have been made regarding the intensity, timing and location of new growth. Notwithstanding these missteps, Amendment 4 fails to offer a viable alternative and would ultimately make the process worse.

The pro-Amendment 4 website implies that over-development problems will no longer occur with the passage of Amendment 4. To the contrary, this constitutional amendment would make it more difficult for our communities to improve planning options that encourage smarter growth alternatives.

Amendment 4 supporters inaccurately portray comp-plan amendments solely as a way to approve developments that lead to traffic congestion and environmental destruction, when in reality the vast majority of comp-plan amendments have nothing at all to do with approving developments.

The author(s) of Amendment 4 missed the mark, and it’s too late to fix it now. Rather than drag all comp-plan amendments to the polls, Amendment 4 should have been limited only to those plan amendments that deal with growth.

Yankeetown, a town of less than 1,000 Floridians, adopted by referendum a local version of Amendment 4. When it became unmanageable, the voters approved another referendum, this time to limit the comp-plan amendments that would be subject to voter approval. If Amendment 4 proved too cumbersome for a town of 800, imagine how destructive it would be for a state of 18 million!

The vast majority of comp-plan amendments deal with mundane management issues, such as adjustments to capital-improvement programs (the Yankeetown example), renumbering paragraphs, correcting demographic projections and complying with changes in state and federal regulations. They don’t attract e-mails or letters of concern, and nobody shows up at the numerous statutorily mandated public hearings. It is disingenuous and counterproductive to suggest that these same comp-plan amendments should now mandate, at taxpayer expense, a county-wide referendum.

Comp-plan amendments typically include many pages of explanatory text, charts, soil surveys and maps. It takes hours of reading to understand the complexities and reasons for most plan amendments. It is unrealistic to think that a comp-plan amendment can be explained sufficiently within the mandated 75-word limit of a ballot referendum.

And it’s unfair to expect voters to spend the many hours necessary to become familiar with the endless details of most comp-plan amendments.

Extensive public participation in comp-plan amendments is a requirement of state law today. Still, less than an estimated 3% of Florida’s voters have ever participated in any comp-plan amendment. Amending the constitution to force all comp-plan amendments to the ballot will not enable public participation; it will force decisions on voters who heretofore had chosen not to participate.

I, for one, am tired of the state’s constitution being treated like a Facebook page, where changes are frequent and provoked by the cause of the day.

Our Founding Fathers debated at length the pros and cons of a direct democracy versus a representative democracy. As evidenced in the pledge to our flag, a republic, which is a representative form of government, prevailed. Although even in a republic democracy there is a time and place for direct democracy, it is clear that Amendment 4 is neither the time nor place.

Jon Thaxton is a Sarasota County commissioner, Sarasota County co-chairman of Citizens for Lower Taxes and a Stronger Economy Inc. and a long-time growth-management and environmental activist.

Related Stories