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Date of Issue: November 03, 2006

Amendment questions on Nov. 7 ballot answered

West Manatee proposes impact fee hike

Voters in the West Manatee Fire Rescue District will be asked to vote on a ballot measure Nov. 7 to allow the district to increase the impact fees it charges on new construction. The measure reads:

“Shall West Manatee Fire Rescue District be allowed to increase impact fees on new construction only, to pay for new equipment and facilities as necessary to accommodate growth?”

There are more decisions to make on the Nov. 7 ballot than just choosing candidates - Florida voters have six amendments to the state Constitution to mull.

There originally were eight proposals, but one was pulled by the Florida Legislature and the other ruled unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court.

The nonpartisan group VoteSmartFlorida.org, and its accompanying Web site, offer a purported unbiased view of the six amendments. Go to the site for more detailed information than what is provided below:

Amendment 1: state planning and budget process. Ballot summary: Limits non-recurring general fund appropriation increases to 3 percent per year unless approved by three-fifths vote of the Florida Legislature. It would also create a Joint Legislative Budget Commission to deal with long-range budget financial issues and a Government Efficiency Task Force. Proponents state the amendment would place both budget and revenue estimates together in one document, and the committees formed would create a long-term financial outlook. Opponents state current general law provides all the necessary measures and additional commissions are not needed.

Amendment 3: create broader public support for Constitutional amendments or revisions. Ballot summary: Provides for any changes to the constitution to be approved by 60 percent of the voters, rather than the current simple majority approval process. Proponents say Florida has one of the easiest constitutions to amend in the country and, by having more people approve any changes, it would mean a greater consensus of the voters would issue such mandates. Opponents state that a voter-initiated constitutional change requiring a higher percentage of voters would diminish the chance of such a change taking place.

Amendment 4: protection of people against health hazards caused by using tobacco. Ballot summary: Forces the Florida Legislature to use some tobacco settlement funds for statewide tobacco education and prevention programs. Proponents state that Florida receives $360 million annually from the tobacco settlement, yet spends $1 million in educational programs. The change would earmark $57 million for such programs. Opponents state the tobacco education funds would come out of other programs, such as education and transportation, and the changes would be better served coming from the legislature.

Amendment 6: increased homestead exemption. Ballot summary: The amendment would increase homestead exemption for low-income seniors from $25,000 to $50,000 per year. Proponents state older, poorer residents are subject to increased property tax values and the change would offer tax relief. Opponents state tax revenue is an important funding source for government and that the amendment would shift the tax burden to other taxpayers.

Amendment 7: discount on property tax for permanently disabled veterans. Ballot summary: Provides a formula for permanently disabled veterans aged 65 or older. Proponents state the amendment would give thanks to veterans who were injured in a foreign war and would keep the exemptions in line with their level of disability. Opponents state exemptions are already in place and the amendment would create exemptions of varying degrees for each veteran.

Amendment 8: eminent domain. Ballot summary: Prohibits the transfer of private property taken by eminent domain to people or private groups, but allowing the Florida Legislature by a three-fifths vote to permit such transfers. Proponents state the amendment is needed because current law allows the courts to determine the eminent domain fate of property, and without the change the question of whether or not a government may take property for economic development will remain unanswered. Opponents state the amendment is not needed and would place limits on the use of property taken by eminent domain.