Gary M. Stein and Adam P. Handfinger Published Article “Florida Beware: Amendment 4 and Its Negative Economic Impact” in Constructor Magazine
Published Date: October 27, 2016
In November, 2010 Florida voters will decide whether to approve Amendment 4 to Florida’s Constitution, which would require voters to approve any and all changes to local comprehensive land-use plans. Currently, publicly elected city and county commissioners make these types of land-use decisions without the need for a general vote. Amendment 4 needs at least sixty-percent of the total votes to pass.
The proposed amendment is sponsored by the grass-roots organization known as Florida Hometown Democracy, which asserts that Amendment 4 will prevent unfettered and mismanaged growth in Florida as well as poor land- use decisions, while promoting sound development. Opponents vehemently disagree and see Amendment 4 as a way to effectively halt development, a result which would have tragic consequences for Florida’s economy.
Because changes to comprehensive land-use plans are currently approved by elected officials, proponents of Amendment 4 claim that all too often these decisions are made with the best political aspirations of the elected officials in mind – as opposed to the best interests of the citizens and community. However, Amendment 4 only provides citizens the opportunity to vote on proposed land-use changes first approved by elected officials. Accordingly, Amendment 4 does not remove power from elected officials and they would still be able to veto pro- posals based upon political connections and ties before those proposals ever made it to a public vote.
It was only with great effort by Florida Hometown Democracy that Amendment 4 finally made it onto the bal- lot. Pursuant to the Florida Constitution, Article XI, Section 3, Florida Hometown Democracy needed to col- lect at least 676,811 signatures (a number of equal to 8% of the total number of statewide ballots cast in the pre- vious Presidential election). In addition, the signatures collected needed to be from a number of voters in each of one half of the Congressional Districts of the state equal to 8% of the votes cast in each of such districts respectively.
Due to a lack of signatures, Amendment 4 failed to make it onto the ballot in 2004, 2006 and 2008. Nonetheless, advocates of the Amendment did not give up. In 2007, Florida Hometown Democracy initially collected enough signatures, but many voters who had signed the petition subsequently withdrew their support for Amendment 4 such that it did not make the ballot. It is important to note that while Florida law previously allowed voters with buyer’s remorse to withdraw signatures from such petitions, after a recent heated and drawn-out court battle, Florida Hometown Democracy successfully convinced the Florida Supreme Court that the state law permitting voters to withdraw their signatures from petitions was unconstitutional. If signers of the petition were still permitted to withdraw their signatures, Amendment 4 would likely not have sufficient signatures to make it onto the 2010 ballot. However, as a result of the Florida Supreme Court decision, Florida Hometown Democracy has the requisite number of signatures and Amendment 4 made it onto the ballot for 2010.
Not everyone believes voting on each and every comprehensive land-use decisions will protect citizens’ best inter- ests. Floridians for Smarter Growth has spearheaded the effort to oppose Amendment 4, which they have coined the “Vote on Everything Amendment.” The opposition claims that Amendment 4 will disrupt planned growth in Florida because it will require an average of over 10,599 additional local votes per year in Florida. Moreover, Floridians for Smarter Growth asserts that the process of approving changes will be so complicated that develop- ment and growth in Florida will be stalled – resulting in a recession and enormous job loss. As we all know, reduc- tion of jobs in the real estate development and construction segments of the economy, which would surely occur if Amendment 4 passes, quickly trickle through the economy as a whole with snowballing effects. In addition, implementing Amendment 4 will be extremely costly as local governments must hold elections on every proposed change to a comprehensive land-use plan, ultimately resulting in higher taxes. Floridians for Smarter Growth believes Amendment 4 will not result in better planning or benefits to the environment. Rather, growth will even- tually continue, but in a slow, disorganized, and likely illogical manner.
Consequently, Floridians for Smarter Growth has proposed its own initiative, the Florida Smarter Land Use Initiative, which has failed to gather enough voter support to make it onto the 2010 ballot. Florida Smarter Land Use’s Initiative proposed a constitutional amendment that would have required voter approval of changes to local land-use plans only if 10 percent of local voters signed a petition calling for the referendum.
Despite the lack of support for their own initiative, Floridians for Smarter Growth’s efforts to defeat Amendment 4 have gained considerable momentum and the group is now looking to raise $15 Million to continue the cam- paign. One of the main concerns Floridians for Smarter Growth has in defeating the Amendment is that the title (“Referenda Required For Adoption And Amendment of Local Government Comprehensive Land Use Plans”) and summary that will appear on the ballot may be very confusing to voters. Thus, education of the electorate is necessary to avoid inadvertent votes in favor of Amendment 4.
For more information, Florida Hometown Democracy can be found at www.floridahometowndemocracy.org and Floridians for Smarter Growth can be found at www.florida2010.org.