Monroe County voters are facing one of the lengthiest ballots in recent years. The ballot is eight full pages front and back. In addition to a long list of local candidates, there are two county referendum questions and 11 proposed changes to Florida's Constitution, including property tax breaks that could help veterans and first-time home-buyers, while placing bigger financial burdens on existing homeowners and impact the budgets of local governments. The state amendments also deal with such social issues as abortion, religious funding and federal healthcare mandates.
The following is a summary of the state amendment ballot proposals:
Passage of the amendment would prohibit laws or rules from compelling any person or employer to purchase, obtain, or otherwise provide for health care coverage in order to comply with the recently enacted federal health care reforms, loosely called "Obamacare." The amendment would essentially remove any penalties for non-compliance with the federal mandate.
Passage of the amendment would allow property tax discounts for disabled veterans. The amendment would expand homestead property discounts to veterans who became disabled as the result of a combat injury and were not Florida residents when they entered the military. The discount currently only applies to veterans who were Florida residents when they entered the military.
Passage of the amendment would recalculate the state's revenue limit to take into account inflation and population growth. The amendment could also mean that less state funding would go to education and other services, because the amendment allows the state legislature to vote to change funding caps and allow more money to stay in the state's general operating fund, and not go to support public education.
Passage of the amendment would give a tax break to first-time home-buyers, who are defined as those who have not owned a home in Florida in the past three years. They would receive the typical $25,000 homestead exemption, plus an additional exemption. The additional exemption is an amount equal to 50 percent of the homestead property's just value on Jan. 1 of the year the homestead is established.
The additional exemption would apply for five years, and would be reduced to 40 percent in year two, 30 percent in year three, 20 percent in year four and 10 percent year five, after which it would be phased out.
Amendment 4 also would reduce the annual cap on property tax increases on non-homesteaded properties from 10 percent to 5 percent.
This amendment has brought sharp criticism from county elected officials. Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi estimates Amendment 4 could cost the Monroe County government $10 million over the next five years.
But what would be good news for some would be bad news for others, according to Monroe County Property Appraiser Karl Borglum.
Borglum said Amendment 4 likely would mean that property taxes would increase for longtime Florida residents in order to subsidize the new tax breaks.
Passage of the amendment would give the state Legislature greater controls over the State Supreme Court. The State Constitution authorizes the Supreme Court to adopt rules for the practice and procedure in all courts. The constitution further provides that a rule of court may be repealed by a general law enacted by a two-thirds vote of the membership of each house of the Legislature. This proposed constitutional revision eliminates the requirement that a general law repealing a court rule pass by a two-thirds vote of each house, thereby providing that the Legislature may repeal a rule of court by a general law approved by a majority vote of each house of the Legislature that expresses the policy behind the repeal.
Passage of the amendment would prohibit public funds being used in abortions and for health-benefits coverage that includes coverage of abortion. This prohibition does not apply to an expenditure required by federal law, a case in which a woman suffers from a physical disorder, physical injury, or physical illness that would place her in danger of death unless an abortion is performed, or a case of rape or incest.
Passage of the amendment would repeal ban on public dollars being used for religious funding. The amendment would provide that no individual or entity may be denied, on the basis of religious identity or belief, governmental benefits, funding, or other support, except as required by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and deleting the prohibition against using revenues from the public treasury directly or indirectly in aid of any church, sect, or religious denomination or in aid of any sectarian institution.
Passage of the amendment would authorize the state Legislature to provide by general law ad valorem homestead property tax relief to the surviving spouse of a military veteran who died from service-connected causes while on active duty or to the surviving spouse of a first responder who died in the line of duty. The amendment authorizes the Legislature to totally exempt or partially exempt such surviving spouse's homestead property from ad valorem taxation. The amendment defines a first responder as a law enforcement officer, a correctional officer, a firefighter, an emergency medical technician, or a paramedic. This amendment shall take effect January 1, 2013.
Passage of the amendment would provide an exemption from local property taxes on tangible property that's value is greater $25,000 but less than $50,000.
Passage of the amendment would authorize counties and cities to offer additional tax exemptions on homes owned by low income seniors. The exemption would be granted if the home's value is less than $250,000 and the owner is 65 or older and has maintained permanent residency on the property for not less than 25 years.
Passage of the amendment would revise the selection process for the student member of the Governors of State University System. The amendment would replace the president of the Florida Student Association with the chair of the council of state university student body presidents as the student member of the Board of Governors of the State University System and to require that the Board of Governors organize such council of state university student body presidents.