A harmful Bill of Rights

Mike Haridopolos' hypocritical legislation would tie the hands of elected local governments

Editorial Courtesy of The Orlando Sentinel

Published December 26, 2010

Florida's legislators want voters to judge them on how they manage to create jobs. But if legislators also hand voters a proposal to broadly limit revenue growth, they'll deservedly be judged hypocrites of the highest order.

TABOR, we're sorry to say, has come slinking back. The so-called Taxpayers Bill of Rights.

Thanks to people like Senate President Mike Haridopolis and Senate Finance and Tax Council chair Ellyn Bogdanoff, who couldn't leave bad enough alone. The bill, which Ms. Bogdanoff is drafting, is expected to do what bills championed by Mr. Haridopolos in 2008 and 2009 tried to do: set a cap that ties revenue growth to population and inflation, and require a referendum for any new tax, fee or assessment.

Tried to do, but failed. The Legislature wisely didn't send the bills to the electorate, which would have had to pass them as amendments to the state constitution.
  
But make no mistake: This push to supposedly make government more efficient and productive by limiting its revenue, but which would hamper its ability to provide necessary services, is Mr. Haridopolos' handiwork. He cutely dubs the spending limit a "smart cap."

It's anything but. Colorado's the only state that passed a similar cap on state and local government collections, in 1992. By 2005, residents had voted to suspend it for five years. The cap had dropped Colorado from 35th to 49th in the nation in K-12 spending, and from 23rd to 48th in the nation in access to prenatal care. That's hardly a success.

In Florida, the "smart cap" would reduce funding for schools and social services. Florida Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink also warns a tax cap would make it more costly to sell bonds for public-works projects and to pay claims against state-run Citizens Insurance after a major hurricane.

The adjustment for inflation would satisfy needed increases in funding? No way. The Florida Association of Counties notes that cost increases in education and health care far exceed the general rate of inflation. "Within the Consumer Price Index (CPI) itself, medical care and education have been growing at twice the rate of the overall CPI," it reports.

But that's a detail TABOR's supporters avoid. Instead, Mr. Haridopolos says that TABOR will "give voters the ultimate veto power" on local officials' penchants for taxing and spending.

What blinding hypocrisy. Mr. Haridopolos and the Legislature fought the Hometown Democracy amendment like it was Mad Cow disease. Why? One of their key arguments against letting residents vote directly on land-use changes was that it usurped the representative form of government. If people don't like local governments' land-use decisions, then vote the bums out.

It was a convincing argument, one that equally applies to issues of spending and taxation.

State lawmakers also recoil at the overreaching power of the federal government. But with TABOR, Mr. Haridopolos and Co. would attempt to control how local governments spend taxpayer money. Even though that's precisely what voters elect local representatives to do.

Mr. Haridopolos and the Legislature should concentrate on doing what voters elected them to do create jobs, and not try to replicate Colorado's failed policy in Florida.

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