By Charles Rinek
How many times have you recited the Pledge of Allegiance?
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
Take a moment to think about it. Just in school alone, it must have been at least a few thousand times. Add any community or government functions you have attended over the years and you are sure to have added a few more.
The Pledge, written in 1892 and subsequently edited four times, has always included the line “and to the republic for which it stands.”
Our Founding Fathers understood that direct democracies, like those used in early Greek City-States, lead to mob rule (or mobocracy) and often disintegrated into tyranny.
James Madison wrote, “Democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”
To be successful, a direct democracy requires full participation of all citizens. This never works because we are so occupied with our daily tasks that we don’t have the time to properly study the issues.
Seriously: Are you going to read a few hundred pages or more of technical data on a parcel of land that may be developed into something in the future but gives no clue what that might be at the moment, or are you going to make plans with your family?
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The Flagler County Futures Committee, made up primarily of citizens, just spent two and a half years rewriting the county’s “Comprehensive Plan,” The blueprint for long-term land-use and development planning. Do you think you could make an informed decision about the intricacies in that document with the 75 words provided on the ballot? I know I couldn’t.
That’s why the Founding Fathers chose to form a republic–a representative democracy.
Now, 234 years and a few billion pledges later, proponents of Amendment 4 think our Founding Fathers got it all wrong. They think who you voted for to represent you aren’t good enough, and they should have more direct control over your private property.
The current process in Florida to change local growth-management plans, or Comprehensive Plans as they are known, includes five public meetings for citizens to express their feelings on the matter. Specifically, a community meeting for those directly affected, two hearings of the local planning board, and two hearings by city or county government, depending on whose jurisdiction the land in question falls under. Five meetings, some during the day and some at night to ensure that all can attend and be heard. But who shows up? Virtually no one. Government chambers are mostly empty, void of citizens expressing their approval or dislike of the future of their community.
The strength of a representative form of government relies on the people being involved.
Recently, some citizens of Flagler Beach were concerned about a proposed change to a local golf course. They organized. When the item came up before their city commission, they voiced their opinion and the change was not approved.
Beautiful: involved citizens active in their government, working to reform things they dislike.
That’s the real issue. Supporters of Amendment 4 aren’t interested in being involved in growth decisions. They just want to stop growth all together, whether it’s a house, a church, a school, or an employment center. They want to lock the gate to Florida. Don’t believe me? One of their main supporters is a population control advocacy group. That should tell you all you need to know about this plan.
So that’s the fundamental problem with Amendment 4. But what’s the practical problem and how will it cost us jobs and increase our taxes?
Let’s say a bio-tech company wants to move to Florida (hopefully Flagler County). The company’s plan is to bring 300 jobs, most of those paying more than the median income. Company executives have selected a site, but to accommodate their business they will need a land use change. They will have to get engineers, consultants and a bunch of permits, all of which take time and money. They have their five public meetings, the Regional Planning Council and the Florida Department of Community Affairs agrees with the local government that it’s a good idea and the proposed change is approved. Now they have to wait weeks or even months until the next voting cycle to get citizen approval. In the meantime, a local group that prefers not to have the added traffic and housing impact of 300 employees campaigns and defeats the project at the polls–and the jobs and benefits to the community are lost.
Maybe the local group is not successful and the community prevails. Soon there will be 300 new jobs and all the local revenue that comes with it. But wait, that’s what happened in St. Pete Beach. Citizens there approved a charter amendment that mimics Amendment 4. After years of no growth, a change was finally passed by the citizens, and supporters of Amendment 4 descended on the town with legal challenge after legal challenge that cost the taxpayers over $1 million to defend.
Now put yourself in the shoes of the bio-tech company, whose jobs we dearly need. Will you invest time and money to bring your company to Florida, where even if you follow all the rules set by your representative government you may or may not be able to complete your move, and if you do, you will have to spend even more in legal challenges? Or are you going to go up the road to another state that will be happy to take the benefits and taxes your company will bring?
That is just one example. The statewide results, according to Florida Tax Watch, are estimated to be 260,000 jobs lost, $44 to $84 million in additional local taxes, and $1 billion in litigation fees.
Amendment 4 is a jobs killer that will raise your taxes. Please vote NO on November 2nd.
Charles Rinek is president of the Flagler Home Builders Association.