"Stunningly Swift:" Jeb's Privatization Plans Dead, Again
Faster than you can say "Get lost, Jeb" the Florida Supreme Court ruled unanimously that three confusingly-written and obfuscating constitutional amendments be removed from the November ballot. The rulings represent a ringing victory for public education in Florida and around the country and a clear rebuke to education privatizers. From The Ledger:
TALLAHASSEE | In a stunningly swift move, the Florida Supreme Court on Wednesday knocked three politically contentious constitutional amendments off the November ballot, with the most important ruling eliminating a complicated plan to cut property taxes by 25 percent that was linked to an uncertain promise to increase sales taxes.
The Florida Supreme Court has removed three proposed state constitutional amendments from the Nov. 4 ballot.
Amendment 5 would have traded a huge property tax cut for other tax increases.
Amendment 7 would have provided a basis for reinstating a public school voucher program.
amendment 9 would have required public school districts spend at least 65 percent of their money directly on classroom activities.
The decisions were unanimous, although the justices - reacting to the need for a quick decision because of the pending election - did not have time to issue their detailed opinions, which will be released at a later date.
In the oral arguments Wednesday, the justices made it clear that they were deeply troubled by the ballot language for Amendment 5, which would have eliminated state-required school property taxes while promising to replace the lost revenue with an undefined tax increase. They said the ballot summary was misleading because it did not indicate the promise to replace the lost revenue only applied to the first year.
Justice Fred Lewis said during his time on the state's highest court, he has been disturbed by what he called "game playing" on the ballot language for the numerous constitutional amendments.
"Why not require that anyone who wants to change the constitution, that it not be misleading, that it not engage in all of these catchy phrases and political jargon, if you will, so that the people of Florida will know what they're voting on?" he asked.
Justice Charles Wells likened the promise of replacement revenue to a warranty with fine print.
"It's not a lifetime warranty," he said. "It's a limited warranty because it's only going to go for one year and I don't have any recourse after 2011."
Mark Herron, a lawyer defending the proposal on behalf of the Florida Association of Realtors, said the ballot language was "accurate as to what the amendment does."
Herron said the claims the ballot language was misleading were being raised by the opponents for "political reasons."
"But the political reason you would want this amendment is: 'I'm no longer going to pay these property taxes but my school system is still going to be the same because there's money replacing it,'" he said.
The amendment had been crafted by the state Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, a special panel that meets every 20 years and has the ability to place amendments directly on the general election ballot.
In striking two other school-related proposals - Amendment 7 allowing publicly funded school vouchers and Amendment 9 requiring school districts to spend a minimum of 65 percent of their money on classroom activities - the court appeared to be troubled over the TBRC's expanding its agenda beyond proposals that seemed directly linked to taxation and budget issues. . . .