Tax increases would need two-thirds vote of Legislature under proposal

A measure that would require future tax or fee increases to be approved by two-thirds votes of the Legislature is ready for consideration by the state Constitution Revision Commission.

The commission’s Finance and Taxation Committee on Tuesday voted unanimously to advance a proposed constitutional amendment (Proposal 72), sponsored by Commissioner Fred Karlinsky of Weston, that would require tax or fee increases to be supported by at least 80 members of the 120-member House and 27 members of the 40-member Senate.

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The vote means the measure is now available for consideration by the full commission, where it must gain support from 22 of the 37 members before it can be placed on the 2018 general-election ballot.

Lawmakers currently have the ability to pass most tax and fee increases by majority votes, though a three-fifths vote is needed to increase the corporate income tax above 5 percent.

Karlinsky said his proposal is aimed at future legislatures and governors that may not follow “the legacy” of Gov. Rick Scott and current lawmakers, who have repeatedly cut taxes.

He recalled a point that Scott made about taxes in his first inaugural address after getting elected in 2010.

“He made the comment that government can only give back to you what it has already taken away from you,” Karlinsky said. “If you think that through, this proposal does nothing more than ask the Legislature to be very circumspect when they are raising taxes, when they are taking that precious dollar from that single parent or that teacher or that police officer.”

If placed on the ballot and approved by 60 percent of voters, the measure would bring Florida into line with 14 other states that require “supermajority” votes for tax increases, Karlinsky said.

The Finance and Taxation Committee amended the proposal on Tuesday to make it identical to a proposal (HJR 7001) pending in the House that would also mandate two-thirds votes for tax or fee increases and for the imposition of any new tax or fee.

The proposal also requires each tax or fee increase to be the single subject of a bill, making it easier for a governor to review and to potentially veto an increase.

Terry Golden, representing the Florida Policy Institute, a Democratic-leaning policy group, asked commission members to reject the proposal, arguing Florida needs more revenue, not less.

“State funding underpins a healthy, educated populace, a safe community, clean water and air and commutable employment,” Golden said. “If falling revenues result in less funding for these services, Florida’s economy suffers and it becomes more difficult to maintain an attractive, evolving state.”

Golden said a two-thirds voting requirement could “hamstring” state officials if they need to find new revenue during the next economic downturn. And she said the voting requirement “creates super powers for the one-third minority who can thwart the will of the majority.”

Karlinsky said his proposal would provide more protection for Floridians during a difficult economy.

“In tough times, you don’t want to allow the Legislature through just a simple majority to pass a tax increase or a fee increase and take more money out of the citizens of the state of Florida’s pockets,” he said.

In other action Tuesday, the Finance and Taxation Committee:

  • Rejected a measure (Proposal 92), sponsored by Commissioner Bob Solari of Vero Beach, that would have required a three-fourths vote by the Legislature for bills that included an “unfunded mandate” for local governments or bills that restrict the ability of cities and counties to raise revenue.
  • Approved a measure (P 49), sponsored by Commissioner Emery Gainey of Tallahassee, that would provide additional survivor benefits when firefighters, law enforcement officers, correctional officers, probation officers and Florida National Guard members are killed in the line of duty. It would also provide extra survivor benefits to active-duty members of the U.S. military who are residents of Florida or who are stationed in Florida at the time of their deaths. The measure does not specify the amount of the benefits, which would have to be set by the Legislature.
  • Rejected a measure (P 63), sponsored by Commissioner Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg, that would require tax exemptions placed in the Constitution after January 2019 to be subject to repeal eight years after their enactment. At the end of eight years, the exemptions would be subject to referendums, with only the exemptions re-approved by voters becoming permanent.

Under the commission’s rules, measures rejected by a committee can be revived for consideration by a majority vote of the full commission.

The commission, which meets every 20 years, has a May 10 deadline for deciding which constitutional amendments it will place on the 2018 ballot.

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