By Deirdre Macnab
Being invited to write a column to oppose tax breaks for disabled veterans, low-income seniors and spouses of veterans and first responders (our EMTs, firefighters, etc.) killed in the line of duty is like being asked to throw torpedoes at the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus.
But do it I will. That’s because this November, Florida voters will see 11 of the most confusing, complex and sometimes misleading state ballot amendments ever proposed, and voters will need to decide: Do I want this in our state constitution?
Our Florida Constitution was crafted as a document that is intended to be difficult to change, and kept sacred for the purpose of identifying the structure of our government. These proposed amendments, however, would insert specific tax exemptions into that sacred document.
As beneficial an idea as tax breaks may be for disabled veterans, low-income seniors and surviving spouses of first responders and veterans, is the constitution the right place to enact them?
The League of Women Voters of Florida, after years of studying and evaluating changes to our state constitution, says no, and urges Florida voters to give these amendments — 2, 9 and 11 (as well as all the other state amendments) — a firm thumbs down.
Of course our disabled veterans and surviving spouses of first responders and veterans deserve our highest respect, and we should do everything we can reasonably do to thank them and recognize them. Low-income seniors deserve a helping hand as well, which is why the League supports getting the Medicaid funds that were refused by Gov. Rick Scott restored to Florida.
The League’s concern is twofold:
First, is the state constitution the appropriate place for tax breaks … for anyone? With the constitution intentionally hard to change, a better place for such tax provisions is regular statutory law, where changing conditions make modification easier. The constitution is a governing document, and should be left sacred to that purpose. We urge legislators to use their law-making powers, and not weigh down citizens with complicated amendments that do not belong in our state’s constitution.
Second, should Florida have a level playing field for taxes? Imagine a giant hunk of Swiss cheese. That is our state tax policy. Loopholes everywhere for private plane owners, yacht owners and ostrich-feed owners.
These loopholes, breaks and exemptions mean one thing: You pay more. The League says close the loopholes, level the playing field, and lower the amount on everyone, not just a designated few.
The total cost of these three tax breaks for local governments over three years would amount to about $45 million. It’s not going to break the bank.
The other amendments on the ballot — which, unbelievably, propose among other things to let those who live out of state and have second homes here get the residents’ property-tax break — will in total mean more than $1 billion less for our public schools, health care, roads, bridges, sidewalks, police and more. The League says just say no to the state amendments.
Many Floridians feel their property taxes are too high, but forget we have no income tax, and are surprised to hear that when we count all our taxes together, we pay less than citizens in most other states. We have one of the lowest corporate taxes as well, and only 2 percent of Florida corporations pay corporate income tax.
So let’s thank our veterans, our first responders and our low-income seniors not by opening more exemptions just for them, but by leveling the playing field, providing a fair tax rate for all Floridians and adequately funding our public schools and universities, so that we can compete with the rest of America — perhaps one day bringing higher-paying jobs and new businesses to our state.
Deirdre Macnab is state president of the League of Women Voters of Florida.