TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Republican-sponsored legislation to cap state revenue similar to Colorado's "Taxpayer Bill of Rights" cleared the Florida Senate on Tuesday in a largely partisan vote and now heads for the House, which also is under GOP control.
If passed there as expected, the proposed state constitutional amendment (SJR 958) would be placed on the November 2012 ballot, where it would need 60 percent voter approval.
Democrats cited Colorado's TABOR, arguing it set back that state's economy and pointing out voters there eventually suspended a key provision of the cap.
Republicans tried to distance their proposal from the Colorado cap, although both limit revenue growth to just what's needed to keep up with increases in population and inflation.
"This is not Colorado. We have learned from the mistakes of other states," said Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, a Fort Lauderdale Republican. "We did not want to repeat what they had done."
The Florida version would let the Legislature raise the cap for a single year by a three-fifth vote in each chamber or for multiple years by two-thirds votes. A third option would to put the issue on the ballot by a two-thirds vote in each house. It then would take at least 60 percent voter approval for a cap increase.
Colorado voters in 2005 suspended for five years a portion of their TABOR that requires excess tax receipts to be returned to citizens to avoid serious reductions in education or other public services. The suspension has now expired.
"I know the sponsor says that this is not Colorado's TABOR, but it is close enough," said Senate Democratic Leader Nan Rich of Weston.
Rich said the criteria for breaking the cap are too stringent and such a cap is not needed because the Florida Legislation has a strong track record of revenue cutting, including the repeal of about $19 billion in taxes over the past dozen years. She also said a TABOR would threaten such services as education and health care for children and the elderly.
The Senate roll call was 27-13, or three votes more than the minimum 24 votes needed for passage. A constitutional amendment requires a three-fifths vote in each chamber.
All except one Democrat, Sen. Bill Montford of Tallahassee, voted against the proposal. Only two Republicans, Sens. Paula Dockery of Lakeland and Nancy Detert of Venice, voted against it.
The Florida measure would cap revenues at their 2013-14 level and then raise the ceiling to account for population growth and increases in the Consumer Price Index.
Opponents, including labor unions, the League of Women Voters and AARP, say the CPI is an unrealistic measure because governments spend more heavily than consumers on such things as health care, fuel and highway construction - expenses that tend to increase in price at a faster rate than consumer goods and services.
Revenue collected above the cap first would go into a reserve fund up to its maximum level. Any additional excess revenue would be used to reduce school property taxes.
Florida has an existing cap based on personal income growth. Florida has never come near that limit because personal income has consistently grown faster than revenue. Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, said the personal income cap is a "wrong philosophy" because it means the more money people make, the more government can take.
Sen. Gwen Margolis, D-North Miami Beach, argued Florida's bond rating would be reduced due to the cap and that would make it more expensive if not impossible to borrow money for such projects as highway and school construction.
"When you do that the bond market gets very upset," Margolis said. "They think their bonds should be paid."
Sen. Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican, acknowledged Colorado's bond rating fell, but he blamed a "ratchet down" provision, which is not in the Florida proposal, that reduced the cap whenever revenues fell below the limit.
Sen. Chris Smith, D-Fort Lauderdale, contended the constitution should not be cluttered with matters that don't affect basic rights. He pointed out that former Gov. Jeb Bush, a Republican icon, was critical for that reason of prior amendments setting school class size limits and requiring a high-speed rail system, a measure eventually repealed.
"I apologize, Gov. Bush, that we're doing this to you," Smith said.
"There is no fundamental right to raise revenue," Bogdanoff replied. "If government takes less the people have more and I don't know about you but I'm OK with that."
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