May 14, 2008
Major interest groups are gearing up to campaign against three constitutional amendments that will be on the November ballot: two that would authorize school vouchers and one that would swap $9.5 billion in property taxes for higher sales taxes.
The state´s powerful teachers union is weighing a multipronged attack on amendments 7 and 9, which would clear the way to restart ex-Gov. Jeb Bush´s school vouchers. Florida Education Association attorney Ron Meyer said the group may oppose all the amendments on the Nov. 4 ballot, including Amendment 5, which would eliminate $9.5 billion in property taxes for schools and replace it with other taxes.
“There´s decidedly going to be a campaign that will be aggressively pursued,” he said.
John McKay, the former Bradenton senator who pushed the tax swap on the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, has said he was afraid putting the controversial voucher amendments on the ballot could drag down the tax swap, too.
That´s why he pushed to place the tax amendment higher on the ballot than the voucher ones: so voters would see it before they got to the voucher questions.
“My gut tells me that could hurt,” said McKay, who is organizing the campaign for the tax swap, of the teachers-union campaign.
Amendment 7 would remove Florida´s century-old ban on state dollars going to religious or “sectarian” institutions. Amendment 9 would spell out that the constitutional requirement to fund “public” schools couldn´t prevent tax dollars from going to private schools. Both amendments were pushed by former Bush staffers on the tax and budget panel, which last month put them on the ballot.
If approved by 60 percent of voters, they would erode the legal bases used by two courts to overturn Bush´s “Opportunity Scholarship” program that offered vouchers to children attending F-rated schools.
The property-tax swap is drawing a coalition of business-sector opponents. Senate Finance and Tax Chairman Mike Haridopolos, R- Melbourne, said Tuesday that he is recruiting agricultural, restaurant, tourism, advertising and accountant groups as well as school districts. He said a committee, Protect Florida´s Future, will raise money to combat the swap. “We´re going to visit every community and let them know the whole story,” he said.
Amendment 5 would eliminate $9.5 billion in required school-tax levies and require the Legislature to replace the revenue from higher sales taxes or other sources. Business groups including Associated Industries of Florida and the Florida Retail Federation argue that this will lead to taxes on services such as lawyer fees, haircuts or pet manicures.
But the Florida Realtors are likely to support the amendment, which Haridopolos attributed to the fact that they are exempted from any service tax on real-estate sales. John Sebree, a vice president for the Florida Realtors Association, said his group would start planning its campaign strategy to promote the amendment next week.
“We believe that the people of Florida have demanded property-tax relief,” he said.
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