Senate President Joe Negron said Friday he is open to the concept of a constitutional amendment that would make it harder for the Legislature to raise taxes.
In an interview with The News Service of Florida, Negron, R-Stuart, said the Senate is working on a measure “that will be similar in goal” to Gov. Rick Scott’s proposal to amend the state Constitution to require two-thirds votes by the Legislature before raising taxes or fees or creating new ones.
Negron said the measure is being developed by Senate Finance and Tax Chairwoman Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland.
In August, Scott called for a constitutional amendment that would require a “supermajority” vote before raising taxes and fees, which now can be created or raised by majority votes in the state House and Senate.
Scott said increasing the voting requirement “would make it harder for politicians in the future” to raise taxes or fees.
In November, the House unveiled a proposal (HJR 7001), sponsored by Rep. Tom Leek, R-Ormond Beach, that would require two-thirds votes by the Legislature to raise taxes or fees. That would translate to support from 80 members of the 120-member House and 27 members of the 40-member Senate.
The House proposal also would require each tax or fee increase to be passed as a single-subject bill.
The House proposal is pending in the Appropriations Committee, where if it gets a favorable vote, it would be ready for a debate on the House floor.
As the former chairman of budget committees in the House and Senate, Negron was asked about the impact of raising the threshold for passing taxes or fees.
“It’s highly unlikely that the Legislature would raise taxes,” Negron said. “I think the real issue is going to be, what should the percentage of the vote be? Should it also include fees?”
Kurt Wenner, vice president for research at Florida TaxWatch, testified at a House Ways & Means Committee in November in favor of an approval threshold of three-fifths votes by the House and Senate.
“It doesn’t get to where, basically, a third of the members could defeat something,” Wenner told the committee.
The Florida Constitution already contains a provision requiring a three-fifths vote by the Legislature to raise the state corporate income tax.
Negron expressed some doubt about including fees in the amendment. He recalled his time as the House budget chairman looking at agriculture-related fees that had not been raised in decades.
“If you’re making a fee actually reflect the current cost of something and it’s a fee, I think that’s a different issue than raising taxes,” Negron said.
But Negron said he expects the Senate to consider some version of an amendment increasing the voting threshold.
“I do think the Senate will take up a proposed constitutional amendment, which Sen. Stargel is working on, that addresses that issue and I am open to that,” Negron said.
The Florida Constitution Revision Commission, which meets every 20 years and has the power to place constitutional amendments on the November 2018 ballot, will take up a measure (Proposal 72) next week that is similar to the House proposal, requiring two-thirds votes to raise taxes or fees.
The proposal, sponsored by Commissioner Fred Karlinsky, is scheduled to be heard by the commission’s Finance and Taxation Committee on Tuesday.
All of the proposals, if they are passed by the Legislature or the Constitution Revision Commission, would require approval by at least 60 percent of voters during the November 2018 election.
At least 14 other states require extraordinary votes by their legislatures when raising taxes, according to House analysts.
The vote thresholds range from a three-fifths vote to three-fourths votes in Arkansas, Michigan and Oklahoma. The Michigan threshold is limited to property taxes. Seven states have a two-thirds threshold, similar to the House proposal.
The Florida Legislature last voted for a major tax increase in 2009, raising taxes on packs of cigarettes by $1.
–Lloyd Dunkleberger, News Service of Florida